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What You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

sad woman in the woods

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression in which symptoms are more severe in the winter. It is sometimes called the “winter depression” for this reason, although it is not uncommon for symptoms to start to appear in autumn as the days get shorter.

What Causes SAD?

Experts are not entirely sure what causes SAD but there are a few theories that have been put forward.

The main theory is based on the effects of lack of sunlight on the body, particularly the production of melatonin and serotonin.

Both melatonin and serotonin have important roles to play in the body. Melatonin is most commonly associated with sleep and many people do not produce enough of it at night, which can contribute to sleep issues.

If you have SAD, you are more likely to be producing too much melatonin, and this can make you feel tired and drowsy during the day. Serotonin is closely associated with mood and appetite, both of which are frequently affected by SAD.

Symptoms of SAD

They include: • Feeling low most or all of the time • A lack of interest in day-to-day activities and things that you used to enjoy • Feeling irritable • Feeling lethargic and fatigued • Experiencing sleep issues such as sleeping much longer than normal or struggling to get to sleep at all • Feeling guilty and worthless • Putting on weight, which is often accompanied by a tendency towards eating carbohydrates

Treatments for SAD

Treatments are often based on trying to increase your exposure to natural light as much as possible, which can help to boost serotonin levels and reduce the amount of melatonin that is produced. This can be as simple as walking outdoors every day or sitting so that you can get the benefit of natural light through a window.

Supplementing this with light therapy is another treatment option, as this can mimic natural sunlight. This can alter the brain chemicals that affect your mood and is successful in many cases of severe SAD.

Alongside this, it can be beneficial to exercise regularly and try to reduce your stress levels. Antidepressant medications can sometimes help.

A balanced diet that includes plenty of B vitamins and vitamin D may also help, particularly as most people do not get much during the winter months. Some studies have sometimes that supplementing with fish oil can also help with mild cases of depression.

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