We’re All a Little SAD Sometimes…What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
After a long, hot summer, before you know it the nip of Fall will begin to tinge the air, and suddenly we will ask “why is it getting dark so early?” or “why am I so tired”? Is it because we are just so busy? Kids going back to school, getting ready for the Holidays…rushing, rushing, rushing…it never stops. However, you may also be suffering from just plain ole SAD…Seasonal Affective Disorder. So, before the earth goes full tilt into its North American Wintertime axis, and we change the clocks once again, and it starts getting dark at like 4:30 in the afternoon, there are some things we can do to plan and prepare to offset SAD before…well…it makes us sad.
According to the Mayo Clinic, (Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can start as soon as the seasons begin to change; as early as September; once the sunshine starts to become even a bit less bright and we start to see day light hours reduced by as little as 30-45 minutes…just 30 minutes! And while the exact triggers of SAD may vary from one individual to another, beyond just extrinsic factors there is also the organic aspect of thelack of sunlight. This affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which may affect the production of serotonin, the hormone that affects our mood, appetite, and sleep. This lack of sunlight and lower serotonin levels can lead to feelings of depression, which may also affect our circadian rhythm, impacting the quality and quantity of sleep. Additionally, SAD is not just associated with depression and the “blues”, but also with increased anxiety, particularly in those with a predisposition to other psycho-social influences (Gulla). This includes bi-polar disorder, nutritional disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Other signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy and feeling sluggish
- Having problems with sleeping too much
- Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
So, what can we do to prevent or reduce the prevalence of SAD and associated symptomology? Research and medical advice tells us that early prevention or ways to reduce symptoms include the following:
- Make your environment lighter and brighter. Keep the blinds open, add UV lights. Anything that will keep your home or office open to the light.
- Go outside. As weather permits, go outside as much as possible. Plan a picnic, eat lunch outside with a friend and bask in the sun; soak up the Vit. D. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help.
- Get regular exercise. An exercise routine and other types of physical activity help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, which can increase SAD symptoms.
- Get plenty of regular sleep but not oversleep. Schedule reliable times to wake up and go to bed each day. Especially for fall-winter-onset SAD, reduce or eliminate napping and oversleeping.
- See your doctor if your symptoms are not improving, become severe or any time your anxiety or depression becomes unmanageable. Never be afraid to ask for help. We all need a helping hand at some point in our life.
So…while it’s sunny and bright outside, let’s plan to keep it that way all season long, and not let SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sneak up on us. If your loved one is living with memory impairment such as Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, and you have noticed or notice signs or symptoms of SAD please talk to their healthcare provider.
If you need help finding someone to treat depression or mental health concerns please visit the link below or talk to your doctor.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651.
Gulla, Emily. “This Is Why so Many People Experience ‘September Anxiety’.” Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, 23 Sept. 2020, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/health/a28768863/september-anxiety/.
Written by Mike Gaona-Adams BLA, RRT, CDP. CDCM