What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s connected to changes in seasons sad begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you are like most people with SAD, your sign start in the fall and continue into the winter months; sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD cause depression in the spring or early summer.
Seasonal affective disorder is different from traditional depression in that it appears to have a clear external cause that is not related to life events. In other words, people don’t get SAD because something has gone wrong in their lives. Instead, some other shift in the environment—weather changes, alterations in light, or something else that affects the way the body processes emotions—triggers depression.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Different?
Most cases of seasonal affective disorder happen during the winter, so experts think that SAD could be due to changes in access to ultraviolet light. But because some cases also happen in summer, this cannot be the sole reason. Mental health experts have suggested a number of potential explanations:
- Emotional changes connected to changing seasons. Perhaps Christmas reminds you of a traumatic childhood, for example.
- Seasonal changes that trigger physical shifts in the body; for example, seasonal allergies might trigger inflammation that alters neurotransmitter function, thereby changing the way the body processes and manages emotions.
- Some other as-yet-unidentified factor. Note that not all cases of apparent SAD are actually depression. Sometimes people just feel unhappy for a while and then move on, so don’t assume it’s depression without first consulting a mental health professional.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The seasonal affective disorder most commonly happens in the winter, so if you get symptoms of depression only during the winter months, it’s a pretty strong signal that you might be dealing with SAD. Some other symptoms include:
- Intense feelings of sadness or emptiness that don’t change with your circumstances. If you’re sad about a break-up or financial woes, for example, it’s likely not depression.
- Difficult in your relationship with other people
- Tiredness, malaise, and a general sense of feeling down and under the weather.
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or sadness.
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns; indeed, it is possible that some people experience natural shifts in these patterns during seasonal changes, potentially triggering an episode of SAD.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
The most general treatment for the seasonal affective disorder is a UV light since most cases of SAD happen during the winter. For many people, exposure to this additional sunlight offers near-immediate relief.
If your symptoms happen during the summer are severe, or light therapy does not work, your best bet is therapy. Counseling can help you discern the reason of your depression, craft a plan to free yourself from depression, and educate you about lifestyle choices that may help, such as exercise and dietary changes. If counseling fails or does not offer full relief, counseling blended with medication can work wonders.
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