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Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD Symptoms and Treatments
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, typically during the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter. It is often linked to individuals' reduced exposure to natural sunlight, leading to mood disturbances and a lack of energy. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects over 3 million Americans every year. The range of people who suffer from this condition can range geographically. Approximately 1 in every 100 people suffer from SAD in Florida, as compared to 1 in every 10 people in Alaska. The symptoms experienced by those suffering from SAD can vary in type and severity.
When Does Your Indoor Winter Blues Become Recognized as Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Winter months typically bring about shorter days, causing our lives to naturally slow down. We find ourselves watching movies more & cooking comfort food at home. However, some people feel the slump more than others.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that reoccurs in an individual yearly during the same season. Some individuals may experience SAD in the summer, spring, or fall, but it is most common during the winter months. However, it's worth noting that some people may experience a milder form of SAD, often referred to as "Fall-onset SAD," where their symptoms are more prominent in the fall than in the winter.
Anyone can experience SAD, although it is most common in women between the ages of 15 - 55. As you age, the likelihood of having SAD decreases. Along with this, individuals who live far from the equator have a higher chance of experiencing SAD due to the shorter days with less sunlight.
Although doctors and researchers have yet to find an exact cause for SAD, it is believed to be related to changes in light exposure affecting the body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) and the production of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.
The bioavailability of serotonin, a chemical which affects mood, impacts the pattern of seasonal depression. Individuals with less serotonin, or who have trouble regulating the chemical, may be more inclined to have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Studies have shown that people with SAD have lower serotonin levels in winter months than in the summer.
The other chemical factor involved in the development of Seasonal Affective Disorder is melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Melatonin production increases during darker periods, therefore as winter days become shorter, the levels of melatonin increase. This results in individuals with SAD feeling more inclined to be sleepy and sluggish.
What to look out for:
Seasonal Depression manifests with a set of potential symptoms that are consistent with major depressive disorder but are linked to specific seasons. Common symptoms include a persistent feeling of sadness, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue, and low energy levels. Sleep disturbances are typical, with some individuals oversleeping while others experience insomnia. Changes in appetite, often leading to weight gain, or conversely, weight loss, are also prevalent. Irritability, difficulty concentrating, and social withdrawal can compound the emotional toll, making it challenging to engage in everyday life and maintain healthy relationships.
The symptoms of Seasonal Depression not only affect an individual's emotional well-being but also have a significant impact on their physical health and quality of life. If left untreated, Seasonal Depression can lead to more severe complications, including thoughts of self-harm or suicide in some cases. It's crucial for individuals experiencing these symptoms to seek help from qualified mental health professionals who can provide appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
It goes without saying that these most severe symptoms of SAD should not be treated without the guidance of a licensed professional. If your quality of life has become severely impacted by these feelings, or if you know someone who is exhibiting signs of being overwhelmed by their depression, please seek help.
However, for those who feel they may just need some help beating the winter blues from time to time throughout these colder, darker months, Soltech has got you covered. Read some of our tips and tricks to make life a little brighter all year round, no matter the conditions outside.
How do you care for SAD?
Healthy coping mechanisms and unhealthy coping mechanisms are distinct approaches individuals use to manage stress, difficult emotions, and challenging situations. Healthy coping mechanisms are constructive and promote emotional well-being, while unhealthy coping mechanisms provide temporary relief but often have negative long-term consequences.
Healthy coping mechanisms involve strategies such as seeking social support, practicing mindfulness or meditation, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and utilizing problem-solving skills. These methods empower individuals to address the root causes of stress and emotions, promoting resilience and personal growth. Healthy coping strategies help individuals adapt to adversity and build long-lasting emotional strength.
In contrast, unhealthy coping mechanisms are typically marked by avoidance, suppression, or numbing of emotions. Examples include substance abuse, overeating, self-harm, and excessive screen time. While these methods may offer temporary relief from distress, they do not address the underlying issues and can lead to a cycle of negative emotions, guilt, and even physical health problems. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are often seen as quick fixes that ultimately exacerbate the original sources of stress and hinder personal growth and mental well-being. It's important for individuals to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms and seek professional support when necessary to develop healthier strategies for managing life's challenges.
Since the leading cause of SAD is the lack of sunlight, the popular remedy is light therapy through a lightbox which serves to mimic the natural sunlight. Light therapy has proven to be effective with the patient sitting a prescribed distance, commonly 1-2 ft in front of the light box, with the person's eyes open but not staring at the light source for approximately 30-60 minutes a day.
However, while the addition of supplemental light in one’s daily life has proven to be the most effective remedy for SAD, up to 69% of patients find the lightbox treatment inconvenient and as many as 19% completely stop use because of this. Luckily, high-quality LED grow lights with a bright white spectrum can also simulate natural sunlight and provide a mood-boosting effect. Model’s like Soltech’s Aspect™ hanging grow fixture can be a simple option for those looking to strategically incorporate into their living spaces.
Dawn simulators are also a great and easily attainable option for those wishing to experiment with light therapy. These devices gradually increase light intensity in the morning, mimicking a natural sunrise and helping to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Limit blue light exposure, as this can further disrupt your melatonin production. Avoid screens for an hour before sleeping. This also has the added benefit of preventing you from absorbing troubling or anxiety inducing content from news or social media networks. Try finding a good, relaxing book and snuggling up in a chair to read- in order to keep your bed a place you exclusively associate with rest in your subconscious. If you find you can’t escape harsher light sources, invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Houseplants for Mood Enhancement:
How can houseplants help SAD? Houseplants can improve air quality, boost mood, and create a connection to nature, which is especially beneficial during the dark winter months. According to the Texas A&M University’s Department of Agriculture & Life Sciences, plants generate happiness. Having them around the home and office greatly improves people’s moods, which reduces the likelihood of depression.
Plants help people feel secure and relaxed, while increasing levels of positive energy and one’s perceived happiness. Caring for houseplants also provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose through care and nurturing. Spending time with your plants daily by grooming, watering, and simply enjoying their presence can have a calming and therapeutic effect.
There is also a strong community formed around the care and love of houseplants, and you can find support in your new found hobby as well as your day to day life by joining local gardening clubs or online communities. Finding new ways to connect with others who share your passion for plants and gardening will help boost your mood throughout the winter.
Plant Selection for SAD:
Low-maintenance houseplants like snake plants, pothos, and spider plants are ideal for beginners. If you would prefer a low stress option for your green therapy experiment, these are perfect options which won’t spike your anxiety.
You can also consider fragrant plants like lavender or herbs for an added sensory benefit. Quick growing herbs thrive under Soltech’s sunset spectrum, and the recent release of the Grove™ LED barlight means you can get your kitchen or any alternative space winter ready with minimal investment and no construction needed.
Maintaining your overall health is also key in the winter months, despite how tempting it is to spend the time carbing up and cuddling under piles of soft blankets. While you should certainly still include these activities from time to time for self care, you should spend the majority of your time maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and prioritizing sleep.
Incorporating these key lifestyle factors into your daily life can complement therapeutic lighting and meditative plant care. Here's a couple more health tips to make winter wellness more enjoyable:
Make healthy eating more fun by growing herbs and other ingredients year round. You can cultivate your hobbies further this way, making cooking even more rewarding, as well as creating more satisfying and nutrient rich meals. The Grove™ Grow Light is the perfect fixture for such a project, with the bar light structure lending itself perfectly to easy installation in the kitchen space.
Getting Steps and Heavy Lifting:
Gardening involves some level of physicality and exercise, perfect for those of all fitness levels to begin a new form of joyful movement. Go for a walk around your local garden center, and don’t shy away from lifting heavier items such as pots and soil (provided you are fit enough to do so, and use proper form, of course). Even doing tasks as simple as tilling the ground of a planter or carrying a watering can be a good way to get your blood flowing and break out of a sedentary slump.
Greening Sleep Spaces:
Introducing plants into bedrooms can help ease the mind and has even been shown to improve dreams, as well as boost overall sleep quality. Chamomile, rosemary, and even lavender are all plants which can be incorporated into a sleeping space, as well as harvested and used in the kitchen.
Individuals with SAD can highly benefit from talking to a therapist. These discussions can identify unhealthy patterns in your life as well as negative thinking and behavior tendencies. This can result in learning about positive coping methods for symptoms. They can also teach relaxation techniques in order to restore and maintain vital energy during the winter months. If you or someone you know is experiencing SAD, consider convenient, affordable and private counseling online with BetterHelp.com. Online therapists are readily available to talk at your leisure while providing beneficial discussions to improve your well-being.
There are antidepressants for people with SAD such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and bupropion. As with any mental health issue, there is no one size fits all. Individuals react differently to certain medications, so you may need to try a few different options before you find the right fit. It is important to remember too, that medications take time to improve your symptoms, so patience is important.
Simple lifestyle adjustments can be very beneficial to helping combat winter blues. Lifting your own spirits can be as simple as meeting a friend for lunch, going outside more, exercising when you can, getting plenty of sleep, or practicing relaxation methods. However, it’s always important to remember you should seek professional help if you feel at all overwhelmed.