Posted by: Karen Fowler
For some people, the changing of seasons can cause depression. This depression occurs annually and at the same time of year. When this happens, it is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Often, people don't take the necessary steps to treat SAD and attempt to brush it off as the "blues" or view it as something that is not serious. It can, however, cause problems in one's life and relationships, and it should be taken seriously. If a person has seasonal affective disorder or knows someone who does, there are some simple solutions that may be of help.
Almost anyone can suffer from SAD, regardless of their age, race, or gender. There are factors, however, that can increase a person's risk of developing it. One of these risks does involve gender, as more women than men are affected. A family history of seasonal affective disorder or a personal diagnosis of bipolar disorder or clinical depression are risk factors as well. Where a person lives also may increase their chances of having SAD. The further a person lives from the equator, the greater their chances are of having this condition. A reason for this is that there are longer days during the summer months and less light during the winter months.
Seasonal affective disorder is most common during the fall and winter months, when there is less sunlight. Although seasonal affective disorder is more common in the winter, it can and does affect some individuals during the summer months. As a result, the symptoms for this disorder may vary according to the type of SAD that a person has. When a person has SAD in the winter, which is also known as winter depression, they may experience symptoms such as depression, loss of energy, anxiety, hopelessness, and the need to withdraw socially. They may experience a loss of energy and a heavy or leaden feeling in the arms and legs. A person may tend to oversleep during the winter months and have difficulty concentrating. In terms of appetite, there is often an increased craving for foods that are not healthy but are considered "comfort foods." Typically, this craving involves foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates. As a result of this overindulging, there is also an increase in body weight.
Symptoms of spring or summer seasonal affective disorder, also known as summer depression, may share some of the traits of winter SAD, but most are opposite. The symptoms for summer months often include difficulty sleeping, a lack of appetite, and weight loss. In terms of mood, they may show signs of anxiety and irritability. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who suffer from spring and summer SAD may also have an increased sex drive.
Researchers and medical professionals are not positive about what the exact causes of SAD are; however, it is commonly believed that changes in the amount of sunlight are a primary factor. Changes in one's serotonin and melatonin levels may contribute to the condition. Additionally, one's circadian rhythm, also known as one's internal clock, may also play a part in it. Reduced sunlight, for example, causes a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects one's mood. When it drops, it could result in depression. Melatonin is a hormone associated with sleep and mood, and it can be disrupted by changes in season. The circadian rhythm lets people know when they should be awake and when they should sleep. This internal clock may be disrupted by the changes in sunlight during the winter and fall months. The decrease in light can disrupt the sleep to the point that it causes depression. There have also been many occurrences of low vitamin D in people who have this disorder.
If left untreated, people with SAD face certain complications. Withdrawing from social activities is an example of one of the problems that one might exhibit. As symptoms worsen, the individual may begin having problems at work or with school and with both personal and professional relationships. People who suffer from this disorder also often have or develop a substance abuse problem. In the worst-case scenarios, untreated sufferers may have an elevated risk of suicide and/or may exhibit suicidal behaviors or thoughts.
Fortunately, there are ways that people can avoid seasonal affective disorder, such as planning a vacation. Because SAD affects people at the same time every year, people who have been diagnosed with the disorder can plan their annual vacation at this time. Because most people are affected by the winter, plan a trip to states that are more to the south, where temperatures will be warmer and the skies are sunnier. Arizona, Nevada, California, and Texas are good choices when planning sunny winter travel. Arizona is known for its sun and warm temperatures and is considered the sunniest state in the nation. Cities such as Yuma, Phoenix, and Flagstaff receive a high percentage of sunny days annually; however, it is Yuma that tops the charts, with as much as 90 percent of its days being sunny ones. Eighty-four percent of the days in El Paso, Texas, are filled with sunshine. Nevada is known for its casinos and nightlife in Las Vegas and Reno, but they are also two of the sunniest cities in the country. California is yet another state that is associated with sun and fun. Popular and sunny cities to visit include Redding and Sacramento, CA. For people with summer depression or summer SAD, they should plan vacation travel to areas that are cooler and have more cloud cover during the summer months.
Whenever a person believes they have a mood disorder such as SAD, the first step should always involve seeing a medical professional, as one's physician can help guide them along the right path of treatment. It is also important that people learn how they can help themselves during the seasons that impact them the most. These changes can involve altering the time when a person wakes up in the mornings, getting more outdoor exercise, or using a light box to help improve the symptoms associated with winter depression. A viable and pleasant alternative involves taking a vacation during the winter months to areas that have more sun, or if an individual suffers from SAD during the summer, a vacation to cooler locations could prove beneficial.
For more information about SAD or popular destinations to visit when fighting symptoms, click on any of the links below.