Shorter days and longer nights signal a change of seasons. For some, it also signals a change in mood and symptoms of depression.
If you get hit with depression when the seasons shift from summer into fall and winter, you may have a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can be triggered by a lack of daylight, and symptoms can last four or more months.
Dr. Richard Abbey and our team at Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic in Palo Alto, California treat all types of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. Here’s how you can spot the signs of SAD and how we can help you cope.
Why SAD strikes
It’s not known for sure what triggers seasonal affective disorder, but it’s thought to be caused by an overproduction of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
Along with this biochemical imbalance, shorter days and longer nights mean a shift in your circadian rhythm. This can affect your daily wake and sleep cycle, and trigger many symptoms of SAD.
Seasonal affective disorder is more common in women, and in those who live in the more northern parts of the country where winter means fewer daylight hours.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
While many people chalk SAD up to a case of the “winter blues,” the symptoms can be debilitating and make it hard to function normally in your daily life.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to symptoms of depression. Symptoms of SAD include:
- Depressed mood
- Sleeping more than normal
- Loss of energy
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Decreased interest in activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless
When left untreated, seasonal affective disorder can lead to anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Treating seasonal affective disorder
While symptoms of seasonal affective disorder often subside once the seasons change to spring and summer, you don’t have to struggle with a depressed mood until then. If you suffer from SAD, we offer many treatments that can help.
As with most other forms of depression, therapy can help boost your mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy are just a few examples of therapeutic approaches that can help you recognize what triggers your SAD and learn healthy ways to cope.
Your mood may also improve through access to more light. With light therapy, you sit in front of a light therapy box that emits a bright “full spectrum” light. This improves cellular function and stimulates energy production to stabilize your mood.
Or, you can try simply spending more time outside or near a window during the day. That may provide enough light to improve your SAD symptoms and help regulate your internal clock.
Getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, practicing meditation, and getting enough sleep can also diminish symptoms of SAD.
If symptoms of seasonal affective disorder interfere with your daily life, we can help. Call our office at 650-215-6840, or book an appointment online today.