#TrendingNews Blog Business Entertainment Environment Health Lifestyle News Analysis Opinion Science Sports Technology World News
A Light in the Darkness: The Symptoms and Treatments of Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the hours of daylight diminish during the cold months of winter, it’s not uncommon to feel gloomy. The cold weather and limited hours of daylight within the winter season naturally lead people to stay inside their homes, where light and warmth are readily available. In these months of darkness, cold, and hibernation, many individuals crave the warmth and sunlight abundant during the seasons of spring and summer. While the “winter blues” are a rather common occurrence, the longing for the warmer, sunnier seasons may lead to a much more intense depression — commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a relatively common disorder that affects people all over the world. It is most prevalent in people groups that receive little (if any) daylight during the winter months, especially within societies existing north of the equator. The further north a country is, the more prevalent SAD is in society— in Oslo, Norway, about 14% of the population is affected by SAD, while  New York City in America features an SAD prevalence of 4.7%. SAD is often caused by the lack of daylight within the winter months, and it can result in a variety of symptoms.

The symptoms of SAD most often arise in the latter months of fall or even in the beginning of winter, when the sun sets earlier during the day. During these darker months, those who suffer from SAD may experience typical symptoms of general depression, such as loss of interest in hobbies, sudden changes in appetite or weight, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and fatigue or sluggishness. However, in addition to these typical depression symptoms, specific seasonal depression symptoms may also arise. People struggling with SAD may particularly find themselves oversleeping, withdrawing from social events and interaction, and overeating. Although these traits are common in those with general depression as well, they are particularly associated with and most common in individuals diagnosed with SAD.

In addition to those with winter-pattern SAD, who are most affected by the darkness of the winter months, there are some that struggle with summer-pattern SAD. Summer-pattern SAD is somewhat less common than winter-pattern SAD, and typically affects those diagnosed with it during the spring and summer months of the year. Although both winter-pattern SAD and summer-pattern SAD share many general symptoms of depression, the specific symptoms associated with summer-pattern SAD differ from those associated with winter-pattern SAD. People diagnosed with summer-pattern SAD often experience insomnia, restlessness or agitation, and anxiety, contrasting the hypersomnia and fatigue that winter-pattern SAD often accompanies.

Although the direct causes of SAD are currently unknown, there are many theories regarding its development. Those suffering from SAD most frequently possess imbalanced levels of Serotonin, a chemical that plays a large role in maintaining mood levels. In addition, SAD is also correlated with an increased production and surplus of the hormone Melatonin, which affects a person’s circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. The lack of sunlight during the winter months can lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which can affect mood levels and Serotonin production as well.  

Fortunately, there are many treatments for those suffering with SAD. One of the most popular treatments for winter-pattern SAD is light therapy, which involves exposure to artificial light, in attempts to make up for the natural sunlight exposure lost during the dark winter months. Those treated with light therapy spend about 30-45 minutes sitting in front of a lightbox. The artificial light produced emulates the brightness level of indirect sunlight, without the harmful UV rays that come from the sun itself. Exposure to light through lightbox therapy is a relatively cheap and effective way to alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

In addition to light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is also useful in treating SAD. Although CBT — a kind of talk therapy encouraging positive thought cultivation — is useful in treating many disorders, it can be applied to those specifically with SAD. In SAD-specific CBT, patients are taught to alter their thought process by replacing negative winter-associated thoughts with positive ones. SAD-CBT also uses behavioral activation to improve mental health, which encourages patients to discover activities or events they are interested in to keep busy and displace apathy frequently associated with SAD.

Medications such as antidepressants and vitamin D supplements can also be used to combat SAD. Antidepressants work specifically to improve serotonin and mood levels in a patient, whereas Vitamin D supplements make up for the vitamin deficiency that many SAD patients experience. These medications or supplements can be taken alone, or combined with light therapy and/or CBT to further alleviate SAD symptoms.

There are many treatments and processes useful in improving SAD. Each patient experiences SAD in a unique way, with different symptoms or circumstances, so the most effective approach to treatment may vary from person to person. Discussing one’s present symptoms with a doctor or healthcare professional is an important process in finding the ideal treatment. Reaching out to loved ones for support is also beneficial in improving mood levels affected by SAD, as well practicing self-care and mindfulness. Although the symptoms accompanied with SAD can be overwhelming, treatment and support can be very effective in combating depression and vastly improving mental health.

Share This Post On


Leave a comment

You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in