Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, describes the depressive episodes that people can experience during certain times of the year and are typically caused by changes in daylight hours and light levels.
While this form of depression isn’t well understood, it can be treated naturally with lifestyle changes, but you should always talk to your doctor before starting any treatment regimen.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a common form of depression that people experience during the winter months, when there is less sunlight. The decreased sunlight can result in symptoms such as lethargy and weight gain, as well as sleep difficulties and mood changes.
While it is not completely understood what causes seasonal affective disorder, research points to reduced exposure to natural light as a possible factor.
Studies also show that women are more likely than men to experience seasonal affective disorder.
Doctors diagnose seasonal affective disorder based on self-reported feelings of hopelessness or excessive sadness.
It is important for those with seasonal affective disorder to speak with their doctor about treatment options and learn about their options before they make any decisions on how to manage this illness.
There are many treatment options available, including light therapy, antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Causes of seasonal affective disorder:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the result of a lack of exposure to natural sunlight in the winter months.
This lack of light affects the brain, which can lead to symptoms such as mood swings and depression, both of which are very common when SAD is present.
The severity can vary from person to person, and treatment will also depend on how severe your symptoms are. Some people may only need to make some lifestyle changes while others might need more intensive therapy.
If you think you have SAD, speak with your doctor about what treatments may work best for you.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of other forms of depression. Symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, sleep disturbances, decreased libido, withdrawal from family and friends and loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy.
There is also a high risk for suicide with SAD, as the depression can exacerbate thoughts about death or self-harm.
A diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder typically involves identifying certain patterns such as an onset shortly after daylight savings time in November, worsening during winter months, then subsiding once daylight hours increase again.
The most effective treatment for season related depression is bright light therapy.
Research suggests that it takes two weeks for patients who use this type of therapy to show improvement over their depressed state.
Diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder:
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of mood disorder that is typically brought on during the winter months. The depression associated with SAD can be difficult to treat without professional help.
However, there are some natural remedies available for treating SAD. Try doing outdoor activities and getting as much exposure to sunlight as possible. These two steps should bring back your energy and improve your mood.
You should also try spending time in a room filled with artificial light; this will give you just enough light exposure that you don’t need to go outside if it’s too cold or rainy out.
Finally, taking vitamin D supplements may also help because they regulate serotonin levels in the body and reduce depressive symptoms.
Treatments of seasonal affective disorder:
Every person is different, but there are some general guidelines for treating SAD. The most common treatments include light therapy, antidepressants, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Here’s a more in-depth look at each:
- Light therapy: Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special type of light that mimics natural daylight. It has been proven effective for some people with SAD because it helps regulate the circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin levels. It can be used alongside other therapies or as a stand-alone treatment.
- Antidepressants: A doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as Zoloft, Prozac, or Lexapro if they feel your case warrants it. Talk to them about any side effects you experience from these drugs and ask about ways you can manage them.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy which focuses on how thoughts and feelings interact to create our behavior. It teaches skills such as mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, etc., which can be applied when dealing with seasonal affective disorder symptoms. CBT typically lasts 12 weeks and sessions are usually weekly or biweekly. Some therapists will also incorporate journaling into this process, encouraging their clients to record things like moods, activities and sleep patterns. Some find it helpful to go outside during their session so they can practice breathing exercises or mindful walking together. Find out what works best for you!
Keep in mind that sometimes it takes time to find the right treatment. If one doesn’t work after trying it for three months, see a new therapist or try another method of treatment. You’ll know when you’ve found something that makes you feel better because life will start seeming brighter and happier again.
What are the warning signs of seasonal affective disorder?
Some of the warning signs of seasonal affective disorder include:
- increased sensitivity to light;
- a lack of interest in socializing;
- feelings of irritability or anger;
- a decreased sex drive;
- difficulty concentrating and remembering things; and
- needing more sleep than usual and eating unhealthily.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should talk with your doctor about getting an assessment.
How to beat seasonal affective disorder naturally?
Here’s how you can beat seasonal affective disorder naturally:
1. Lifestyle changes:
As a result of seasonal affective disorder, many people experience low levels of serotonin and melatonin. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and irritability as well as poor sleeping habits.
To combat this problem, it is important to make lifestyle changes that promote healthy sleep patterns and take advantage of natural light exposure. Here are some tips for how you can beat seasonal affective disorder naturally:
Take vitamin D supplements — Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation. One study found that individuals with lower levels of the vitamin had higher rates of depression. While the jury is still out on the optimal dosage, research suggests taking around 2000 IU each day.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids — Omega-3s have been shown to help regulate mood swings by helping maintain healthy brain function.
A recent study revealed that women who supplemented their diets with fish oil (a source of omega-3) were less likely to be depressed during menopause than those who did not take fish oil.
Studies also show that those who eat diets rich in seafood, such as salmon and shrimp, are less likely to suffer from seasonal depressive episodes than those who do not eat seafood.
In order to optimize your chances of beating seasonal affective disorder naturally, we recommend eating three servings of cold water fish per week and consuming more omega-3s in other forms.
Examples include eating more nuts like walnuts or adding chia seeds or ground flaxseed to your morning oatmeal.
Lastly, try avoiding foods high in saturated fats which may disrupt healthy hormone production and contribute to insulin resistance which could lead to weight gain.
2. Light therapy:
It’s important to note that people with bipolar disorder should not use light therapy because it can trigger manic episodes.
In addition, some medications such as beta blockers and insulin may interfere with the effectiveness of light therapy. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about whether or not you should use this treatment for seasonal affective disorder.
There are also many natural treatments for SAD which include: getting more sleep; spending more time outdoors; exercising; eating well-balanced meals; maintaining a regular sleep schedule; reducing stress levels through yoga or other relaxation techniques; practicing good coping skills to deal with work or family issues.
For children and teens, talking to parents about ways they can improve their mood during this time is very important.
Parents should encourage them to spend time outside on sunny days when possible, get involved in outdoor activities like going on hikes or bike rides together, take supplements with vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil).
3. St. John’s Wort:
It’s important to note that St. John’s Wort does not cure SAD; it only helps alleviate symptoms for about six hours at a time.
The herb is helpful when taken as an antidepressant and taken regularly during the winter months, which can help with the mild depression that typically accompanies the winter blues.
Be careful of other side effects if you are taking any other medications or if you have a history of liver or kidney problems.
After five minutes of exposure to bright light, your body will produce more serotonin.
Medications like antidepressants may also help regulate levels of this mood-enhancing chemical in your brain.
Drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. These drugs need to be taken daily for about two weeks before their effectiveness becomes noticeable.
Studies show that people who use SSRIs experience an improvement in their mood after eight weeks of treatment and remain better off than people who do not take them until three years later.
The benefits of these medications often outweigh their risks. If you’re considering taking one, talk to your doctor first and make sure they monitor how it affects your mood while you’re on the medication.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids:
A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to decreased serotonin levels, which is the hormone that helps keep your mood stable.
Omega-3s are an essential nutrient for your brain health and are necessary for a healthy immune system. It’s important to note that not all omega-3s are created equal, so make sure you’re getting enough of the right kind.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are two types of omega-3s found in fish oil.
While DHA is more concentrated in the brain, EPA is more concentrated in other organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and retina.
Research suggests it may be best to supplement with both. Consider taking 2 grams per day of EPA and DHA combined, with 800mg coming from DHA.
Some people also take 250 mg per day of grape seed extract for additional benefits such as reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. And don’t forget about vitamin D!
Research has shown a link between SAD and low vitamin D levels, so take 2000 IU daily during the winter months if you live north of Boston or San Francisco. Remember that not all forms of vitamin D are equal.
Look for Vitamin D3, which is the active form of vitamin D made by our bodies. Take care to avoid excessive supplementation since too much can cause side effects like nausea and high blood calcium levels; limit intake to 10,000 IU at most every 24 hours unless otherwise directed by a physician.
For those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, it is important to know what you are dealing with. There are many ways in which people deal with seasonal affective disorder, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. People need to try out different things and see what works for them.
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