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Seasonal Affective Disorder

January 26, 2015

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? – Are the winter months making you depressed?

Many of us have felt dull or moody with or without any reason, but some of us have felt this way regularly at certain time of the year. This pattern of mood disturbance that starts around a certain time of the year, most often in fall or winter and continues till the season changes has been termed as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. In classification systems for disorder, a seasonal pattern has been identified for depressive disorders. The usual clinical features include feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious, loss of interest in your usual activities, eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, weight gain, sleeping more but still feeling tired, concentration difficulties etc. The overall impact on life can cause reduction in functionality and performance leading to factors that perpetuate the condition and may worsen it with every seasonal onset. Apprehension about developing the symptoms can be high and can lead to earlier onset with chronicity.

What Causes Sad?

The cause of seasonal onset is not clear but the effect of reduction in daylight and imbalance of melatonin production in those vulnerable to depression could be the major factor. The disturbance in circadian rhythm is a notable factor in development of mood related disorders and seasonal variation in the body clock in response to sunlight duration is a viable hypothesis. In fact light therapy has been found to be effective in SAD.

Who Suffers From Sad?

Anyone can suffer from depression with seasonal pattern, but it’s more common in women, among people who live at higher latitude i.e. far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short, people between the ages of 15 and 55 and among relatives of those suffering from SAD. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.

What Can Be Done About Sad?

Identifying the problem is the first step in treatment. If you have noticed mood changes happening regularly at certain time of the year, especially for two years in a row, it can be SAD. If the symptoms are mild, and do not affect routine activities, maintaining a regular sleep wake pattern, with enough exposure to natural light, avoiding napping or staying in dark during the day, doing regular exercise especially in the morning and practicing stress relieving techniques can be helpful. Balance the craving for carbohydrate by choosing complex carbohydrates and proteins and eating healthy at regular intervals. Munch on dry fruits like almonds, walnuts and unsalted pistachios and use honey, jaggery and dates for that craving for sweet stuff. Light boxes with luminosity of 2500lux can be used in the morning for 30 minutes for treatment of mild symptoms. It’s important to understand that SAD is a form of depression and hence taking expert opinion is imperative. Talk to a psychiatrist if symptoms recur or worsen. If mood disturbance gets out of control and starts affecting your personal, social and work life, professional help is imperative sp that no harm comes to you or your loved ones. Antidepressant treatment is safe and effective in controlling the symptoms and achieving a better quality of life.

What Did I Learn About Sad?

*SAD can affect anyone but vulnerability is higher among people who have relatives with SAD, depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.

* Teenagers are susceptible to develop mood disturbance during winters especially with exam season. Observe signs of over eating, over sleeping and irritability and talk to the child about it.

* Natural light exposure, healthy eating habbits, regular exercise and indulging in stress reducing activities help improve symptoms.

* SAD is a form of depression and it can worsen over a period of time, it needs to be treated. Seek professional help before it gets too late.