Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition that consists of depressive episodes that are recurrent in the months of winter and fall with remissions in summer and spring. It is also known as winter blues, seasonal depression, or winter depression.
SAD has been linked to the presence of a biochemical imbalance in the brain that is caused by a lack of sunlight during winter and shorter daylight hours. Due to the seasonal changes in the circadian rhythm of the human body, disruption of the normal daily routine, and other unknown factors, depressive symptoms can set in.
According to the American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV, SAD is defined as a specifier of major depressive disorders that are recurrent. It may be applied as a seasonal pattern specifier to recurrent major depressive disorders or to bipolar I or II disorders. Up to 20 percent of people suffering from SAD have bipolar I or II disorder. Consequently it is important to identify mania or hypomania in these individuals.
Most people with non-seasonal depressions, such as chronic major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymia, may experience worsening of their symptoms during winter, but they can be differentiated from people suffering from SAD since they will still be symptomatic during summer.
Researchers have associated melatonin (a sleep related hormone) with seasonal affective disorder. A relationship has also been identified between the distance a given population is away from the equator and the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder, the people living farther away from the equator are more likely to develop SAD. For example 25% of the population at the middle to northern latitudes of the United States experience winter doldrums.
Some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Sleep problems where one is sleepy during the day but also finds it hard to sleep during the night.
- Irritability and social problems.
- Inability of carrying on normal routine.
- lack of energy.
- Craving for sweet foods and carbohydrates (which can lead to weight gain).
- Inability to cope or anxiety.
- Loss of libido.
The methods of treatment that medical practitioners use include: light therapy, ionized air administration, cognitive behavioral therapy, careful supplementation of melatonin, and medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
Apart from seeking treatment from a medical practitioner the following are other methods of dealing with seasonal affective disorder.
- Add more lighting to the rooms and keep the curtains and blinds open to allow more light into the rooms.
- Enjoy outdoor activities such as sledding, taking a walk, and building a snowman. Physical exercise when combined with forms of treatment for SAD have been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of SAD.
- Listen to lively music to uplift your mood.
- Go for a vacation in the tropics during the months of winter.
- Wear bright and cheerful clothing such as brightly colored scarves and flashy handbags.
- To deal with the craving avoid carbohydrates that are in the form of sweets and starches and consume foods made of whole grains. It is also advisable to add proteins in the diet such as lean meat, nuts, fish and plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Try to sleep early and wake up earlier when the daylight hours are more. During the day avoid taking naps since this can interfere with sleep in the evening.
- Think happy and positive thoughts and try to enjoy the warmth of family and friends.