Did you know that around 10 million people in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder?
This type of seasonal depression can range from mild to severe enough to warrant a hospital visit. Further, it impacts women more often than it does men.
If you have seasonal affective disorder, you’ll notice changes to your mental and physical health as the seasons change. Most often, this happens during the dark and gloomier fall and winter months. But some people even experience problems in the warm and bright summer months.
Read on to understand the causes and signs of seasonal affective disorder so that you can get the right support.
What Does It Mean to Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a condition causing depression during the fall and winter months. Someone with fall and winter seasonal affective disorder will feel sad and low as the days get shorter and there’s less sunlight. The condition most often affects those who live farther from the equator, but it can occur regardless of where you live.
A common cause of seasonal affective disorder in the fall and winter is the disruption of the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Also, changes occur with the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.
The reduction of light during the day can cause your body clock to get confused and make it hard to feel energetic. At the same time, the extended darkness causes your body to make you sleepy when it produces too much melatonin. You’ll notice a lower mood when the changes make your body produce less of the mood-regulating hormone, serotonin.
Although it’s less common, some people instead get seasonal depression in the summer when there’s the most sunlight. Problems such as seasonal allergies and insomnia from the shorter nights can trigger symptoms. You might have feelings of anxiety, fatigue, depression, and restlessness with this form of the condition.
If you have the summer form of seasonal affective disorder, your body clock also gets confused with the extra hours of light. This change interrupts your sleeping patterns. It also interferes with your body’s melatonin and serotonin production.
How Do You Recognize the Signs?
When you have seasonal affective disorder, you’ll usually notice a host of mental health issues and physical symptoms. The symptoms can vary, depending on whether you have the traditional winter form of the condition or the less-common summer form.
If you have seasonal affective disorder in the fall and winter, you might find that you need a lot of extra sleep and that you feel like you’re in a bad mood much of the time. You may also find it hard to concentrate on your daily tasks or may lose interest in your hobbies altogether. You may also start gaining weight since you could feel hungry more often, and your body might ache.
When the summer form of seasonal affective disorder affects you, you’ll also notice symptoms of being sad and depressed. You might feel anxious a lot and get irritated at small annoyances.
But unlike with winter seasonal affective disorder, you may find you don’t get enough sleep. This happens since the extra light makes it hard to settle down and get rest.
Regardless of which form of seasonal affective disorder you have, a common trend is that you’ll notice the symptoms lifting as the seasons change. So, if you have winter SAD, the early weeks of spring will bring you some relief. In contrast, you’ll usually start to feel better in early fall when you have the summer form of seasonal affective disorder.
How Can You Get Help?
If you notice the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, you can reach out to either your primary care doctor or mental health professional.
You can expect to first undergo a physical exam, where you answer questions about your symptoms and health history. You may also undergo blood tests to check your thyroid and complete blood count.
Thyroid problems and other mental health disorders can cause similar symptoms of depression. So, a thorough exam will allow the doctor to make sure that seasonal affective disorder is the right diagnosis.
You can also expect a psychological evaluation. This is when your doctor asks about how you feel and what changes in behaviors you’ve noticed. Answer the questions honestly so your doctor can provide the right treatment options.
What Are the Treatment Options?
You have a variety of non-medical and medical treatment options for seasonal affective disorder. Your doctor will ultimately make recommendations based on the severity of the condition.
Your doctor may first recommend that you try light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a very bright lightbox when you wake up.
The lightbox can help resolve the issues with hormones and your sleep-wake rhythm. As a result, you experience a better mood and reduce your physical symptoms, like insomnia.
In some cases, light therapy doesn’t help enough. So your doctor may recommend an antidepressant medication, such as Fluoxetine (Prozac). You’ll likely start taking this medicine each year before the symptoms start and may take several weeks before the full effects of the drugs are felt.
Talking to a therapist regularly can also help you better manage the symptoms. Your therapist might offer advice on relaxation techniques and meditation. He or she can also help you identify what negative thoughts have caused you the most problems.
Now You Can Get the Get the Help You Need
If the signs of seasonal affective disorder seem familiar to you, meet with a medical professional as soon as possible. Your doctor will rule out other diagnoses and recommend some treatment options so that you can feel like yourself again.
Along with using the prescribed lightbox, medication, or therapy, don’t forget to practice self-care. This might include planning a relaxing getaway, getting involved in new hobbies, or spending more time with loved ones.
You can use our medical network facility tool to find a clinic or hospital where you can get care.