Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to a change in seasons. Although often referred to as the "winter blues," people can experience SAD any time of the year, though it is most often seen during the colder months, when we lose an hour of sunlight due to daylight savings.
What causes SAD? According to Mental Health America, transitioning from bright, sunny days to bleak winter ones can cause a drop in our body's natural production of serotonin, melatonin and Vitamin D. This disruption can lead to SAD symptoms such as lethargy, social withdrawal, depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Less commonly, SAD can also be triggered by environmental changes, such as shifting from a first to a third workshift.
Experts note that between 5-10% of Americans experience SAD each year. Those at highest risk include:
- People who lack exposure to sunlight
- People who live far away from the equator
- People at high risk for depression
- A family history of SAD or mental illiness
The good news is that there are many effective treatments shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of SAD. These include:
- Establishing a routine to develop good sleep, diet and exercise habits. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon & tuna, can have a positive effect on mood.
- Spending time in the sunshine as much as possible.
- Allowing natural light into your home, or using light therapy, which advises sitting in front of artificial bright lights for 20-30 minutes at a time.
If symptoms don't improve, experts suggest considering cognitive behavioral therapy. Antidepressant drugs have also been proven to be helpful in reducing or eliminating SAD symptoms.