What is seasonal affective disorder? How do you know if you have it? What are the symptoms? And what can you do to change its effect on you? These are questions asked often by patients that visit psychiatrists. A psychiatrist can diagnose this disorder and offer you many helpful ways to deal with the symptoms. But first we have to understand what it is and how it affects those that suffer with it.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a disorder that is directly related to the seasons. Some people experience symptoms from fall thru winter and into spring which is called the winter blues, and some experience summer blues which starts at spring and goes through summer and into fall. You will normally return to your usual mood once the season is over that effects you but there are ways to combat the symptoms when they come on. The effects or symptoms of seasonal affective disorder change based on the season that it affects you in. Here are some interesting statistics to consider about those that suffer with SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Statistics
1. Estimated to affect 10 million American’s every year.
2. While an extra 10-20% may have mild episodes.
3. It is much more common in women than men.
4. Typically starts around age 20.
5. Some people’s symptoms affect their quality of life.
6. 6% have required hospitalization.
7. 55% percent of people have family members with a depression issue.
8. 34% have family members with alcohol abuse.
9. Normally doesn’t happen in children under 20 years old.
10. Sometimes detected by parents and teachers.
11. Risk decreases the older you get.
12. More common in the northern states.
Causes of SAD
With these statistics it’s easy to say that you probably know someone in your family that has SAD or is going to experience it as they get older. Although SAD is for both summer and winter, summer depression is less likely to happen than winter depression. Some of the most common reasons for SAD are based upon genetics, natural chemistry, and health. Although there are no real clear cut reasons behind this disorder, here are a few things that could be the cause.
1. Your biological clock is thrown off by the seasonal changes in light during the day and night. When there is less daylight hours or more day light hours you clock gets confused and sets off depression.
2. Serotonin levels can also be a reason for SAD since the drop in daylight time reduces your serotonin levels causing depression.
3. Melatonin levels also can cause play a role in the sleep deprivation which when deprived of sleep can cause a depressive state of mind.
Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
3. Loss of energy
5. Heavy, leaden arms and legs
6. Social withdrawal
8. Loss of interest
9. Appetite changes
10. Weight gain
11. Concentration problems
Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
5. Weight Loss
6. Poor Appetite
7. Increased sex drive
Now that you know the symptoms to look out for you should know when to be concerned about whether you have Seasonal Affective Disorder and if you should consult a Doctor? If you feel any or all of these feelings for an extended period of time then you should consult a Doctor. It is perfectly normal to feel down, tired, or agitated once in a while but if your mood stays low or elevated for a week or more or you fluctuate in moods on a regular cycle daily then you should definitely see a Doctor and have some test run.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can even affect you if you already have a Depression Disorder. The symptoms can increase your regular symptoms drastically. However this is called reverse seasonal affective disorder.
Reverse seasonal affective disorder symptoms include.
1. Persistent elevated moods.
4. Enthusiasm that doesn’t fit the situation.
5. Rapid speech and thoughts.
This is often referred to hypomania in Bipolar disorders. Consulting a Doctor will help you with medicine and ways to treat the problem without medicine if you so choose. Many people suffer from this every year. The statistics have grown since they first discovered the cause of it and here are some facts you probably didn’t know.
There are many risk factors to developing SAD. Some can be environmental and some can be chemical. Here is just a few to consider.
1. Being female can increase your risk.
2. Being clinically depressed or bipolar can also be a risk factor.
3. Living further from the equator causing the decrease in day light can be a risk factor.
4. Family history can be a deciding factor as well, usually disorders such as these run in families.
SAD can cause complications to your moods, your thoughts, and your work ethics. Making it hard to function in daily life and also hard to work for a living. So be very concerned when it comes to SAD and seek treatment immediately.
When seeking treatment the best thing to do to help your Doctor to understand the problem is to keep a journal of all the symptoms you are having, document each high and low, and make a schedule of activities you normally perform and how you have been performing since the onset of the symptoms. This will tell your Doctor what the problem is and how to treat it. Also include any previous conditions and medications you are already taking or have had reactions too. Your medical history is vital when seeking help for a depression disorder, it will help to identify the problem and treat it.
Your Doctor will ask you a lot of questions so be prepared with answers to help him understand the problem and he may even ask for a physical exam. There are no set testing’s that can be done for SAD but if the Doctor suspects there is something chemically wrong he can run some blood tests to help him understand the problem better.
For patients with only a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis light therapy can be very useful, along with medicine and therapy. But if you are already taking medicine for a bipolar disorder light therapy can possible be more damaging than helpful. Consulting with a Pharmacist and Doctor on what medicines can work together is always important when adding new medicine to your daily routine. Some medicine interacts differently when combined with other medicine.
When using light therapy as treatment you sit a certain distance from the light and the light will represent the outdoor light and can cause a change in the brain chemicals related to mood. It is the first line in therapy for SAD and usually works in two to four days and causes few side effects. Some antidepressants are known to help severe cases such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, and Effexor. Starting the medicine a few weeks before the symptoms begin is always advised by the Doctor so that the medicine has time to take effect which will reduce the chance of symptoms occurring and they also suggest continuing it after the season has passed.
Psychotherapy helps you to recognize your moods, how to change them, and stop negative thoughts, and relieve stress. This can be a very effective treatment to SAD and is recommended for anyone experiencing any type of mental health issues.
Natural ways to help with SAD can be anything from supplements to more day light time. Here are a few helpful ideas to try.
1. Get more light between 6 am and 8am. Natural light will increase your mood.
2. When indoors use light colored walls and fabric so it reflects the natural light into the room.
3. Use the light box as suggested earlier.
4. Eat foods high in tryptophan such as turkey, milk and egg whites. There is no scientific evidence this will help but it has been hinted at.
Other foods you can also try are:
1. Basmati rice, rye bread, and pasta which is slow to release sugar so it keeps your blood sugar level constant instead of giving it highs and lows.
2. Bouillon will help with food intake and carbohydrate cravings.
3. Cereals such as cooked cereals, unsweetened muesli and bran flakes are great at releasing sugar slowly as well.
4. Fruits such as apricots, apples, pears, grapes, plums, and grapefruit all help with gradually raising serotonin levels and keep them level.
5. Lots of exercise can’t be a bad thing.
6. Staying on a waking up and going to sleep schedule will help keep you on schedule and regulate your body’s clock.
Although all of these can add benefits to your daily life sometimes a supplement will also help. Try these and see how they help.
1. St. Johns Wart.
4. Omega 3-Fatty acids.
Additional remedies include:
4. Guided imagery
5. Massage therapy
Symptoms for Coping
Ways to cope with your symptoms can be very simple. Instead of hiding in your house or bed try these to make coping much easier.
1. Get out and meet people.
2. Take a trip to a more tropical climate if available to.
3. Take care of yourself.
4. Practice stress management.
5. Stick to your treatment plan.
Taking matters into your own hands and starting your medicine or treatments early on before you start to feel the symptoms can help reduce the effects of the symptoms and not prevent them but make them less severe when they do start. There is no way to prevent his disorder but staying on top of things will definitely help in the long run.