sad seasonal affective disorder mental healthFall is a time filled with newness. Leaves change color, the air chills, and our focus begins to shift to the approaching holidays. For many people, however, fall is a daunting harbinger of seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is very common, affecting three million Americans each year. This does not mean it should be shrugged off as a case of the winter blues; SAD can seriously impact our productivity at work, school, and personal relationships. If you think you might have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. 

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression prompted by the change in seasons, and is most common among people living far from the equator. It occurs when people with otherwise normal mental health experience many symptoms associated with major depressive disorder. 

What Makes Seasonal Affective Disorder, Seasonal?

It is believed that a decrease in sunlight can lead to a drop in serotonin and melatonin production, thereby triggering depression. It’s also believed that shorter daylight hours can disrupt our circadian rhythms, which can also lead to depression. 

While it is usually associated with the wintertime, symptoms of SAD often start in the fall and subside in the spring or early summer. January and February are typically the most challenging months. Interesting to note is that seasonal affective disorder does not exclusively occur during the winter months. Some individuals suffer from summer-time episodes of seasonal depression; however, such cases are less common. 

What Are The Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal depression can start out mild and become more severe as we get deeper into winter, so it’s important to keep an eye out for changes in your mood. Symptoms typically mirror those of major depression and include:

  • Hypersomnia (oversleeping)
  • Fatigue
  • Overeating
  • A craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating

What is the Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It’s crucial to point out that seasonal affective disorder can mimic other conditions, specifically hypothyroidism, mononucleosis, or bipolar. For this reason, your healthcare provider may want to order blood work or run other tests to rule out these possibilities before starting a treatment plan. 

Fortunately for the millions of people who experience SAD every year, there are a number of effective ways to alleviate symptoms. Your doctor may decide to use one or a combination of the following treatments: 

  • SSRI’s (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • Counseling
  • Light therapy
  • Vitamin D supplementation
  • Regular exercise 
  • Balanced diet
  • Good sleep hygiene

Are There Things I Can Do to Make These Activities Easier As It Gets Colder?

Absolutely. The end of summer shouldn’t signal an end to exercise, fun, or productivity. With a new season comes the opportunity to change up your routine in creative ways, which can help with SAD prevention as well as treatment. 

To prepare for the coming cold, make a list of your favorite warm-weather activities and see how they can be modified for fall and winter. You may even think of some things you’ve always wanted to try but never have. For example:

  • Exercise - You don’t have to go to a fully-equipped gym in order to get a great workout. Try carving out a small space from the comfort of your home to practice yoga, cardio, or strength-training. Prefer to exercise in a group setting? Consider indoor rock-climbing, kick-boxing, dance lessons, racquetball, or swimming in an indoor, heated pool. Check your local YMCA or community center for their offering of seasonal classes. 
  • Balanced Diet - Winter fruits and vegetables taste better and cost less when they’re in-season. Plenty of vitamin-rich foods like sweet potatoes, fennel, onions, and even citrus fruits are harvested and shipped to grocery stores during the fall. Track down recipes that incorporate your favorite winter produce to keep your mind busy and your body healthy. 
  • Stay Connected - It’s all too easy to spend our free time hunkered down in bed when it’s cold out, but seasonal affective disorder is worsened when we isolate ourselves from loved ones and avoid social interaction. Make it a point to prioritize time with family, friends, or meet new people through volunteer work or social events. 
  • Rearrange Your Bedroom or Home Office - If you’re prone to slipping into a funk during the winter, changing up your living space can have a huge impact on mood and motivation. If you work from home, move your desk to an area that receives the most natural light, so you’re exposed to as much sun as possible during the day. You can also decorate with a few low-light, indoor plants to add a pop of green to your surroundings. 

While some things can be done to address SAD through self-care, the most important part of addressing it is seeking professional support. That’s where we can help. The care providers at Allegheny Medical offer a multitude of services to help treat, prevent and manage a wide variety of health issues. We are a locally owned and operated medical facility featuring five distinct divisions of care: primary care, physical therapy and sports medicine, weight loss and nutrition, occupational medicine, and mental health

Call us at 412-494-4550 to schedule an appointment today, or book an appointment online!

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