What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental disorder that is associated with changes in the weather during winter months. In most cases, SAD causes symptoms of depression including feelings of worthlessness, having a lack of energy, sleeping troubles and thoughts of death or suicide.
In some cases, SAD could occur in the early months of spring or summer. In these cases the symptoms are slightly different and may include weight loss, poor appetite and anxiety.
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The cause of SAD is widely speculated to be the result of a lack of sunlight, which in turn could decrease levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that affects changes of mood and sleep patterns.
Lack of sunlight is also said to cause an increase of melatonin, the brain chemical that regulates sleep.
A rise in melatonin levels may affect sleep schedule which may be related to symptoms of depression.
The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario suggest that SAD could be caused by early childhood trauma.
Who does it affect?
Women are up to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. Adults under the age of 55 are more at risk to developing SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs more often among people living in the northern hemisphere than those closer to the equator. Daylight savings times, the constant change of seasons and weather, and the lack of daylight associated with being nearer to the north pole all contribute to the risks involved with developing SAD.
How is SAD treated?
There are a number of methods to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder including light therapy and anti-depressent prescription drugs. It is important to seek medical advice before beginning a treatment.
In a YouTube video produced by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dr. Robert Levitan explores treatments and preventative measures for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
For mild cases of SAD, multiple online medical sources recommend the following at home remedies.
1. Maximize on the time you spend outdoors.
Because the leading cause of SAD is a lack of sunlight, spending enough time outside when the weather calls for clear skies is essential to fighting back symptoms of depression.
The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario recommends rearranging your living environment so that even when you are inside you can benefit from the sunlight near a window or open area.
2. Exercise daily.
Having a healthy lifestyle is to the key to avoid health issues including mental illness. To avoid symptoms of depression, make an exercise routine and stick to it. Exercising helps you release built up energy and relieve stress. Exercising outside is an added benefit to coping with SAD.
3. Prioritize sleep.
A recurring symptom of SAD is exhaustion linked to lack of sleep. The Better Sleep Council of Canada recommends regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, daily mental stimulation, taking a warm bath before bed and making your sleeping environment more comfortable.
4. Pass on the carbs, eat more protein.
A number of online sources including WebMD advise those who are coping with SAD to avoid simple carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread. These carbs quickly raise blood sugar levels which then pump excessive amounts of insulin into your body. Instead stick to complex carbohydrates like oatmeal and whole grains which increase the serotonin levels that your body needs to regulate your mood.
Leafy greens, fish and turkey are said to contain nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D and amino acid tryptophan that can boost serotonin levels.