Seasonal affect disorder, formerly known as seasonal depression, affects many people every year. The symptoms of seasonal affect disorder may persist for years without the person realizing their change in mood relates to the changing seasons. For most people, their symptoms start in the fall and continue through winter. This is believed to correlate to the amount of daylight exposure people experience in the winter versus the summer. Those living further from the equator experience symptoms far more often than those living in consistent environments closer to the equator. Fewer hours of sunlight can throw off one’s melatonin levels, serotonin levels, and circadian rhythm, which can all lead to increased feelings of depression.
How Do I Know If I Have Seasonal Affect Disorder?
If you are wondering if you suffer from seasonal affect disorder, there are a few symptoms you can watch for. These include:
- Feeling depressed nearly all day everyday during a particular season
- Low energy
- Increased sleep disruptions not caused by any other factors
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness or guiltiness
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Those suffering from winter seasonal affect disorder may experience an increase in carbohydrate cravings and oversleeping. Those with spring and summer seasonal affect disorder may experience a poor appetite, trouble sleeping, and/or increased anxiety. When these symptoms are recognized as related to a seasonal affect disorder, it’s important to see a therapist right away who can help you manage your symptoms and help you overcome your disorder, so it stops affecting you year after year.
Although most people are affected by the winter season, some can also experience symptoms in the summer, or any season. People with bipolar disorder may experience manic symptoms in the spring and summer and depression in the winter. People who experienced trauma during a particular season may become triggered when they are exposed to the same sights, sounds, and smells they sensed during the trauma.
How to Cope with Seasonal Affect Disorder
As seasons repeat every year, it may feel as if the only cure to seasonal affect disorder is moving closer to the equator and avoiding changing seasons altogether. However, there are therapies that can help those who can’t just pack up and relocate. Recognizing symptoms is the first step. The second is to seek professional help for overcoming the disorder once and for all.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can guide patients to change negative behaviors and thoughts commonly practiced during the depressive season. Managing stress and scheduling positive social activities can also help reduce symptoms. If a decreased exposure to sunlight is the main cause of your seasonal affect disorder, light box therapy can help diminish symptoms. Taking vitamin D supplements can be a more low-cost option to light boxes. Lastly, if symptoms are severe, or patients are suffering from extreme depression, anti-depressant medication may also be recommended in conjunction with other therapies listed. Understanding seasonal affect disorder and applying appropriate treatment can help anyone overcome their symptoms.