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Feeling SAD? What you need to know about Seasonal Affective Disorder

We’ve all been there. Those days where we would rather hide under our covers than face the world.  That feeling of being sucked into a black hole, unable to escape. For many of us, that is all they are: just really, really crappy days. But for many people struggling with depression, this is life everyday.

When I was thinking about coming to Canada for university, one of my biggest fears was developing depression again. I struggled with depression and anxiety for some time during high school, and was terrified of reliving that pain. One of the most difficult parts of struggling with these disorders was the feelings of isolation they left me with. The fake smiles and carefree facades people wore made me feel even more alone, leaving me wondering why I couldn’t just snap out of these feelings, why I couldn’t just be “normal.” I grew stronger and healthier near the end of high school, but the fear of succumbing to that mental pain again followed me everywhere. As excited as I was to experience a different country and a new environment, I knew that the cold weather and cloudy days would challenge me. I had heard about seasonal affective disorder, and knew that I would be especially prone, considering my past experiences with mental health issues.

My first year in university was definitely challenging, and the constant stream of grey, cloudy days left me feeling slightly down, but I thankfully did not develop seasonal affective disorder. I know that many people are not as lucky, and endure the symptoms and pain of this disorder, especially during the winter months. In an effort to bring more awareness and understanding to this disorder at winter comes to a close, here is some information about common symptoms, underlying causes, and potential treatments to combat the effects. We are getting closer to March, and hopefully towards some sunnier, warmer weather. The effects of SAD will probably start to decline as we get closer to spring, but it is still important to take care of yourself.

What is It?

The Mayo Health Clinic classifies seasonal affective disorder as a subtype of major depression. It often occurs during the winter months, as the days grow shorter, and the amount of sunlight decreases. Around 2-3% of Canadians struggle with seasonal affective disorder. Here are some of the symptoms that individuals struggling with SAD may experience:

Symptoms

  • feelings of depression and hopelessness, nearly every day
  • low energy
  • loss of interest in your favorite activities
  • sleeping problems
  • trouble concentrating
  • frequent thoughts about death or suicide

Why it Happens

Serotonin

SAD is thought to develop due to chemical changes that take place in the brain. The reduction in sunlight levels that comes with winter affects the amount of serotonin that is produced. Serotonin levels are lower, and because serotonin plays a role in mood regulation, this may be why mood changes occur.

Circadian Rhythm

These changes in the amount of light we receive also affect our circadian rhythm. Because it is dark when we wake up, our body still thinks we should be resting.

Melatonin

Melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness, increases in production when there is less light. This may be why feelings of fatigue and drowsiness occur with SAD.

 

Treatements: What to Do

If you think you may be experiencing SAD, the first step would be to seek help, and talk to your doctor. Here are a few of the common treatments that would be suggested by a doctor for those who are struggling.

Light Therapy

It may seem a little weird, but you sit in front of a bright light box, which gives off light that is similar to natural sunlight. It mimics the effects, inducing chemical changes in the brain which may increase mood.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs are often prescribed, such as SSRIs, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These help reduce the amounts of serotonin in your brain, increasing mood.

Therapy

Simply talking to someone about your feelings and how you are struggling may help to identify thought patterns you are engaging in that may be contributing to your negative feelings.

Exercise

Working out or even going for a walk can help to elevate your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, boosting mood and increasing your sense of calm.

Go Outside

While it might be the last thing you want to do when you’re having a rough day, the benefits of going outside include increase in mood and self-esteem. These little mood boosts may help to better your day, and make you more productive.

Brighten up

Exposing yourself to as much light as you can will help to combat some of the effects of SAD. Try changing up your study environment! Go to a library or coffee shop, and sit by the window. Having this additional light exposure will help, even if it is too cold to be outside.

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20021047

http://www.medicinenet.com/seasonal_affective_disorder_sad/page3.htm#what_is_the_treatment_for_seasonal_affective_disorder

https://www.cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/

http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/seasonal-affective-disorder#3

http://www.healthyresources.com/sleep/magazines/sleepwell/sad.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/light-therapy/details/why-its-done/icc-20197420

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/exercise-fitness/emotional-benefits-of-exercise.htm

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/03/06/spending-time-outdoors.aspx

http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental_health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/#.WKoKdYv1Low

Photo Credits:

http://www.notey.com/blogs/depression

http://www.nationalnutrition.ca/HEALTHCONCERNS_DEPRESSION.aspx

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/light-therapy/

http://travel.usnews.com/features/why-you-should-get-outdoors-on-your-next-vacation/

http://nickkerrypsychotherapy.co.uk/psychotherapy/

https://www.pinterest.com/annad17/anxiety/

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Tali Main

U Toronto

Tali is a second year psychology student at University of Toronto. She enjoys singing, reading cheesy teen romance novels, and cooking/eating delicious food!
These articles were only edited by me. To read articles written by me, click here.
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