Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder relating to changes in seasons, mostly during the cold winter months.
It is not simply a case of “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that goes away without the right intervention. It is important to take steps to improve your mood and keep your motivation steady throughout the year.
Also known as seasonal depression, SAD can bring significant changes in your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels. It may also affect several aspects of life, including personal relationships and social life at home, school, and work.
People experiencing seasonal affective disorder may feel like a completely different person to who they are in summer. They may feel different kinds of emotions such as hopelessness, sadness, tension, or stress, and some may lose interest in engaging in activities they normally love.
Although rare, seasonal affective disorder can affect 1 in 300 Australians, particularly women and young people. While a milder form of winter blue may affect about 20 per cent of the population.
It is common to experience emotional shifts during changes in seasons; however, people with SAD can feel less comfortable.
If these feelings start interfering with your everyday life, it could be a warning sign of depression. But if they keep occurring at the same time of the year, health professionals may diagnose the condition as a seasonal affective disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of SAD?
The signs and symptoms may be different for each individual and may vary depending on the season.
Here are clear indications of seasonal affective depression:
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating or lack of focus
- Isolation and not wanting to see people
- Feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty, or hopeless
- Feeling extreme anxious, angry, and irritable
- More prone to physical health problems (such as colds, infections or other illnesses)
- Sleeping too much or difficulty leaving the bed
- Sleeping too little or waking up a lot
- Changes in your appetite (not wanting to eat)
- Loss of interest in physical contact
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Other symptoms of depression
If you have a history of other mental illnesses, you may find that these symptoms worsen when you are affected by SAD.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
It takes gradual and consistent efforts to avoid or manage symptoms of SAD. Here are some ways to prevent and treat seasonal depression.
Identify triggers and avoid them.
Triggers are sensory reminders of painful memories that are often the starting point of depression. Identifying and avoiding these red flags can prevent seasonal depression from the root.
Change in diet
Eating healthy food choices are great option to prevent the progression of SAD symptoms.
Studies have found that a dietary pattern of high fruit intake, incorporating vegetables, whole grains, and fish, can significantly decrease the risk of depression.
Do regular cardio exercises.
Fight off the negative effects of SAD through exercises, more specifically, cardio workouts such as running, biking, and basketball.
Studies have found that cardiovascular-centred workouts help trigger the release of endorphins, which acts as the body’s pain killer and mood booster.
Get regular hours of sleep.
Getting regular and healthy hours of sleep is important in preventing seasonal depression. Good quality sleep also helps mitigate the development of other types of mental problems.
Reach out to family and friends
Staying connected with your loved one and attending social gatherings can allow you to share your feelings and somehow lessen the feeling of isolation.
Learn Mental Health First Aid
Recognising warning signs of seasonal affective disorder and providing early intervention is the best way to help those who struggle with SAD.
Given that the symptoms can be debilitating, early recognition and treatment from a family member, friend, or mental health first aider can be crucial.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of normal depression, but most occur at a particular time of the year.
The nature and severity of SAD can vary for each person – some may find it bearable, but for others, it can be severe and have a significant impact on their daily lives.
To learn more about supporting someone experiencing seasonal affective disorder, enrol in a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course near you.