Winter is a magical time—between holiday celebrations, cozy fires, and (if you’re lucky) snow, there’s a lot to love about this special season.
However, winter can also be hard on some people. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people in the winter months. More commonly known as winter blues, seasonal affective disorder can have a serious impact on people’s lives.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The intricacies of seasonal affective disorder still aren’t well understood; however, SAD is believed to be caused by the shorter days and lack of light that characterize the winter months. This can affect people in a couple of different ways. First, it disrupts individuals’ circadian rhythms, the natural biological cycle that determines sleep-wake times and energy levels. This can have effects on your mood, sleep, and behavior.
In addition, lack of light is also thought to have a negative impact on our bodies’ ability to maintain normal levels of serotonin (a mood-regulating neurotransmitter). Below average levels of serotonin can cause depression.
Who Suffers From SAD?
Around 5% of the US population experiences seasonal depression each year. As with normal depression, SAD can be influenced by a number of factors. These include:
- living at higher latitudes (further from the equator) where days tend to be shorter in the winter.
- gender; women tend to be affected by SAD more often than men.
- living with bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.
- being deficient in vitamin D, which may worsen symptoms of SAD.
Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
For many people, SAD goes away on its own when the seasons change and the days lengthen. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat SAD, or at least mitigate its effects. As with other forms of depression, seeing a mental health professional and exploring antidepressants (if appropriate) can be extremely beneficial.
In addition, many people have success with light therapy (commonly known as “happy lights”) which mimics the effects of sunlight on the brain. Taking vitamin D supplements may also help to better regulate serotonin levels.
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