The days get shorter, the nights get longer. This time of year is filled with tons of different emotions. Stress and excitement for the holidays. Time for good food and good company. It could also be filled with sadness for those who aren't there. It's the time for getting cozy and staying indoors. Whatever the occasion, the change in seasons usually brings about very different emotions for all of us. In some cases, the change of seasons can bring more than just a change of emotions, for some people it can bring about a change in their thoughts, feelings, and actions, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during the onset of fall or winter1. In lesser known cases, it can also occur during the onset of spring/summer. SAD is a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder. It is more than just the "holiday blues" which we can often confuse SAD with.
The "holiday blues" are feelings of sadness that are brought upon by the stresses of the holidays, SAD is caused by changes in daylight hours with lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of melatonin being some of the chemical changes that can occur during that time2. SAD is a type of depression that can be debilitating for many people and should not be confused with the "holiday blues".
What are some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
There are many symptoms that can be associated with SAD. They include:
Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
Not being able to focus as much on a task
When it comes to SAD that occurs on the onset of fall/winter, some more specific symptoms can include:
Craving a lot more carbs
When it comes to SAD that occurs on the onset of spring/summer, some more specific symptoms can include:
In some cases, violent or aggressive behaviors
As a side note, in order for these symptoms to be considered symptoms from SAD, they would need to be occurring at the same time every year3.
How can I treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
There are a few ways that you can treat SAD. Although you may never be "cured" per se, you can still do things that could help in reducing symptoms and managing it.
Start with the basics. When it comes to mental health, taking care of your physical body will always have a direct impact. Make sure to exercise regularly, eat well, and keep a regular sleep schedule. You don't have to go to the extremes, especially since you most likely will be having delicious holiday food, but do what you can.
Get sunlight. This will help in maintaining your circadian rhythm. It will also help in producing vitamin D, which many people who suffer from fall/winter onset of SAD actually suffer from a lack of said vitamin2.
Light therapy. They have been found to be really useful, but you should always consult your healthcare provider before buying one. There are different types of lights, so make sure to find one that actually is meant to help with SAD. The Mayo Clinic offers a guide on how to find a light that works best for you.
Therapy. Meeting with a therapist during these times will always be a good option. They can help you in processing your emotions and in learning how to deal with this type of disorder.
Is Vitamin D a good treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Although some people who were diagnosed with SAD were found to have a vitamin D deficiency, it doesn't necessarily mean that taking vitamin D supplements will help in treating these symptoms. Studies have actually shown mixed results when taking supplements, showing that although it could be linked to helping in reducing symptoms, it shouldn't be seen as the solution to SAD (2,4). As a general health suggestion, vitamin D supplements can definitely help, but when it comes to SAD, it should only be used in conjunction with other methods of treatment such as therapy.
Reach out for professional help
Remember, SAD is a mental disorder that is diagnosable and treatable. Since it is a type of depression, it should be treated as such. If you or anyone you know is displaying some of these symptoms, reach out for professional help. Counselors at Xenia know what it's like to deal with the change in seasons and are more than willing to help out.
This blog was written by Alessandro Gemio, edited by Izzy Maire, and reviewed/approved by Taylor Madsen, LMFT, and Hailey Maire, LCSW.