What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Writing over at Partners in Prevention about the “winter blues.” See below for a preview or link here for the full post.

Hello January with your cold, long days and less light than we are used to. Are you over yet?!

Anne Rulo what is seasonal affective disorder partners in prevention

Many people start the calendar year with a lot of hope for a fresh start, only to hit what feels like quicksand when it comes to motivation and activity. You may have heard the mental health term, “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD” mentioned as a possible culprit. So, what is SAD? How and why does it affect people? Can it be to blame for a lack of energy, motivation, and soured mood? Let’s check it out.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a mental health diagnosis referring to seasonally-affected symptoms of depression. These symptoms may include feeling down when there is less daylight, loss of interest/enjoyment, sleep difficulties, low energy, “moodiness” or irritability, difficulty concentrating, or even thoughts of suicide. The “overs” are also common with SAD, overeating, oversleeping, and over-isolation.

SAD, as a formal diagnosis, affects only a small percentage of the population. But, like many mental health disorders, less severe forms can affect many more people who may find themselves wondering why they feel differently during the late fall and winter months.

What Causes SAD?

The science behind SAD is not completely clear, despite decades of research. It is interesting to note that the number of people who struggle with SAD increases the further away they live from the equator. This correlates with findings that SAD symptoms are tied to the amount of sunlight we get in a day. Additionally, shortened daylight hours are known to affect two different hormones, melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a hormone that affects our sleep-wake patterns, while serotonin is a neurotransmitter tied to our mood. While none of the research is conclusive, the winter changes in daylight seem to change the way our body experiences these two hormones, thus affecting our mood and sleep patterns.

Anne Rulo what is seasonal affective disorder partners in prevention

There is also a biological tie that appears to exist between SAD and those who already suffer from other mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression. Those who are already having a difficult time may be more susceptible to the factors that influence SAD. It is also more likely to affect women than men.

Recommendations for Treating SAD

To finish reading about treatment suggestions, link to the full post here.

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