Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be described as a condition where recurrent episodes of depression affect a person only during a particular time of the year. Most people tend to get this seasonal disorder during the winter months. Usually, the symptoms show up at the onset of fall and continue throughout the winter but disappear in the spring or early part of the summer. It is identified with symptoms like anxiety, irritable mood, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of interest in activities, sleepiness, weight gain, etc. Some people may get it in the summers too but it is quite rare. Along with the usual depression symptoms, they may also experience symptoms like insomnia, lack of appetite, agitated feelings, etc.
The exact cause behind this disorder is not clearly known but it is believed that it could be associated with the decreased amount of light received by the body. This tends to disrupt the circadian rhythm of the body that controls various physiological processes in a 24 hour cycle, which include regulation of your sleeping time and waking time. It also brings about changes in the level of various hormones such as melatonin and serotonin that controls the mood, sleeping pattern, appetite, etc. Besides, age, genetic factors, emotional factors and personality may also contribute towards the disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder is often treated with psychotherapy, light therapy and some medicines. Antidepressant medicines are prescribed to those people who show severe signs of depression. The medicines have to be taken throughout the year but its dosage is higher in that particular season when the symptoms are experienced. For the remaining part of the year, only low dose of medicines have to be continued. Psychotherapy helps a lot in dealing with depression. It is conducted by a trained counselor who helps the patient to identify his/her negative thoughts that crop up in the mind and help him/her to combat them. This brings about positive changes in their thoughts and behavior. Some people with winter seasonal affective disorder may undergo light therapy. In this therapy, the patient is exposed to some bright artificial light released from specialized lamps, which imitate natural light. This helps in changing the effects of various chemicals and hormones in the body that control mood and behavior.
How to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Since the depression symptoms are only seasonal, those mildly affected by the disorder are not too keen to go for a medical treatment or therapies. They can manage the disorder by bringing about some lifestyle changes. A few effective ways to deal with this form of depression are as follows:
Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Eat healthy foods that provide you with sufficient nutrition. Take your meals on time and do not skip them. Keep the size of the meals small so that even if you have low appetite, you can finish it off. Many people increase their alcohol intake when they are depressed but you should avoid that as it can aggravate the problem further.
You may feel lethargic and fatigued due to the disorder and may not feel like moving your body. Exercising can help you to stay active. Select some exercises that you enjoy doing the most so that you can motivate yourself to do them daily. This will energize your body, uplift your mood, and you will feel much better.
Interact with Others
Do not shut yourself up from the rest of the world. Talk to your close friends about the problem that you are facing and they will lend the emotional support that you need. You may not be in a mood to socialize with your friends when you are feeling low. Push yourself a bit, spend some quality time with them and you can notice a lot of changes in your behavior.
Go Out During Daytime
You must spend a few hours of the day in open air just to get the feel of natural light. Even if there is no sun still the brighter light of the day lifts up your spirit to a great extent. You can take a stroll around or just sit in the open air in a nearby park. Occasionally, you can plan to have lunch outside with a few friends.
Relax Your Mind
When your mind is stressed out, you are bound to feel depressed and anxious. Give adequate amount of rest to your mind and body to ease off the tension. Learn some stress management skills to overcome depression. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc., are a few of the most effective relaxation techniques that can help you in this regard.
There is no way to prevent seasonal depression. However, at the very onset of the symptoms, you can change your lifestyle and activities to keep the severity of the symptoms in check.