Season affective disorder (SAD) = seasonal sadness
Yearly seasonal changes can affect moods – known as ‘the winter blues’ and ‘the fall pall’
SEASONAL SADNESS RESEARCH
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is seasonal sadness or seasonal depression – it comes and goes with the annual seasons – every year for most SAD sufferers.
For sufferers, seasonal sadness occurs in winter, but few may have ‘summertime sadness.’ The winter blues, for example, starts in autumn (fall) as the weather changes and becomes colder – the colder it becomes, the more severe the symptoms might appear. As the weather warms up in spring, people gain more energy and enthusiasm – and less sadness and ‘moodiness.’
Summertime sadness affects people through heat stress, excess sweating and moisture loss, anxiety in not being able to keep cool, and daytime tiredness. Although there is limited research, it appears that the disrupted sleep causes the most negative effects, that lead to confusion, lack of motivation, and depressed feelings.
Symptoms for all seasonal sadnesses include: feeling listless and sad almost all day every day; lack of motivation; lack of concentration; low energy; over-sleeping or lack of sleep; food cravings or lack of appetite; irritability; impatience; anxiety; and anger – to name a few.
People are affected differently, depending on location, the intensity of the seasonal weather, the capacity to cope with the conditions, other underlying and co-existing medical and psychological conditions, and even whether you have adequate clothing for the season.
Scientists think that each person’s circadian rhythm – biological clock – affects their ability to adapt to the level of sunlight – too much (summertime sadness) or too little (winter blues). Reduced sunlight may also cause reduced levels of serotonin in the body – the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical that affects moods – that triggers the blues, feeling low, or deeper depression. The weeks that mark the transition between seasons can be particularly difficult for many people because the changeable weather disrupts the body’s balance of melatonin levels, which affects sleep and mood.
Scientists think that women are more affected by SAD than men. It also occurs more often in younger people than older people. Also, the further you live from the Equator, the more it affects people (both north and south of the Equator) because there is less sunlight each day, and reduced summer months, closer to the Poles. SAD may also be a family-based condition, in which all family members are affected.
However, it is still not fully clear what causes seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal sadness also occurs at festive seasons, such as Christmas, which can trigger depression and stress. The Mind Journal says the most common reasons for Christmas anxiety are:
- financial worries
- family problems
- loneliness and isolation
- health issues
- loss of a loved one
- longing for happier memories from the past
- Christmas environment and features
- anxiety about social situations
- festive workload
- excessive expectations
- additional household chores
- pressure to celebrate the ‘perfect’ Christmas
- commercialisation of the holidays.
SEASONAL SADNESS TREATMENT
Reducing the symptoms of seasonal sadness often includes increasing the intake of Vitamin D, light (phototherapy), and warmth for winter sadness, and dark and coolness for summertime sadness. For example, in winter, spending time in saunas and in rooms with humidifiers helps ease the symptoms. As does exercise – walking, running, playing with the family pet, gardening, etc.
Light therapy, introduced in the 1980s, involves being exposed, for specific periods of time each day, to bright light. It may be a light box for 30-45 minutes per day, because it is believed to be 20 times brighter than indoor light during winter.
Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body in small doses when skin is exposed to sunlight. It helps to increase serotonin which increases positive moods. Less sunlight on the skin results in less naturally-made Vitamin D. Vitamin D is not found in many foods, but there is Vitamin D in fish liver oils, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, and tuna), and foods fortified and enriched with Vitamin D (milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals). Chicken, mushrooms, eggs, and pork – and other foods – contain a little bit of Vitamin D. If in doubt, check with a nutritionist or a medical practitioner for advice on increasing Vitamin D levels through food or supplemental vitamin tablets.
For festive seasonal sadness, the Mind Journal recommends the following coping mechanisms:
- Plan ahead for restorative routines (shopping, cooking, visiting family and friends)
- Check for realistic expectations (there is no ‘perfect’ Christmas; traditions and rituals change, and memories are not the same)
- Have an exit plan for parties and events (to cope with anxiety and stress)
- Follow a strict budget (for gifts and events)
- Acknowledge your feelings (observe your feelings without judging them)
- It’s okay to grieve, mourn, cry, and get upset during Christmas (there is no need to force ‘holiday cheer’)
- Spend time with yourself (self-love can heal deep wounds)
- Set aside grievances (be compassionate and understanding with family and friends)
- Reach out (attend events to connect with people and for companionship)
- Limit over-indulgence (to preserve health, limit food, drink, and excessive activities)
- Say ‘No’ when you want to (when feeling overwhelmed, distressed, and resentful
- Be mindful (through meditation, deep breathing, sitting calmly, going for a meandering walk, etc.)
- Stay active (The Lancet Psychology journal say only 2 hours of physical exercise per week improves mental health)
- Limit alcohol (alcohol reduces serotonin, the ‘feel good hormone’ which can affect mood, sleep, and short-term memory)
- Take a rest (learn to relax)
- Get professional help.
People generally find their own ways of reducing seasonal sadness. However, if it is severe, psychotherapy or medicinal treatment may be required.
SEASONAL SADNESS SIMILAR TREATMENTS
Similar treatments for seasonal sadness include being appropriately and adequately dressed. For winter, the tighter the under-clothing is worn on the body, the more heat it traps, and therefore it keeps you warmer than wearing loose under-clothing. For summer, the looser the clothing – i.e. keeping clothes away from the skin – the cooler you will feel.
FOR WINTER BITE, KEEP CLOTHES TIGHT. IF THE SUN IS GLOWING, KEEP CLOTHES FLOWING.
SEASONAL SADNESS NEGATIVES
Too much sunlight may cause cancer and other skin conditions and diseases – it affects people differently, so be cautious about exposing yourself to too much natural sunshine. Government and medical practitioners generally advise that the minimal sun exposure required to have benefits in winter is 20 minutes per day – but your own country’s government and medical practitioner advice should be adopted.
Excess Vitamin D is harmful, and is called Vitamin D toxicity – it may be harmful to the heart. Governments have released recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for Vitamin D, so this advice should be adopted. People’s individual medical conditions and medication will affect absorption of sunlight and/or Vitamin D, and the level of benefits, so check with your medical practitioner.
People with eye conditions may be negatively affected by light therapy – and all uses should be approved by a medical practitioner first.
SEASONAL SADNESS CAVEAT
Seasonal affective disorder treatments do not necessarily address seasonal factors and core issues each year. People may be affected differently each year as the seasons also change over time – e.g. some winters are more intense than others. Not every SAD sufferer experiences symptoms every year. Also, traveling, and changing living locations, may impact the levels of seasonal sadness.
“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.” – Victor Hugo
“The sun – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory.” – Charles Dickens
“If winter were a person, I would kill them. I would go to jail for sunshine.” – Sonya Watson
“I’m so depressed. Christmas is the worst of all. The holidays are terrible, worse than Sundays. I get melancholia.” – David O Selznick
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