Although no one knows exactly why SAD happens, some researchers believe it is caused by a change in the body’s circadian rhythm due to lower levels of sunlight during the fall and winter seasons.
This lack of sunlight can cause hormones and biochemicals to become unbalanced. For instance, the brain may produce less serotonin, which is known to affect mood. Melatonin levels can also change, which can affect sleep.
Are You at Risk for Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is more common in people ages 18 to 30 and happens more frequently in women than in men. Here are some SAD symptoms. Do you recognize any of them in yourself or others?
- Appetite changes, increased desire for carbohydrates
- Excess sleepiness
- Feeling of sadness or hopelessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of interest in daily activities
- Social isolation
- Weight gain
Seasonal Depression: What You Can Do
Moving closer to the equator can help, since the days there are longer in the wintertime, and few people who live in these regions suffer from seasonal depression. However, if you’re not quite ready to pack it all up and relocate to another part of the globe, take heart: there are ways you can reduce your risk of developing SAD or improve symptoms if you already have SAD. Here are just some of the steps you can take:
Studies show 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day, along with 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight, can go a long way towards treating seasonal depression or managing existing SAD symptoms. Why not do both at once by taking a walk outdoors during lunchtime or an early afternoon break when daylight is at its peak? Walk with a friend, and it might help boost your mood even further.
Although nutrition is important all year, if you’re at risk for SAD, it’s even more important to make wise food choices during the fall and winter. Opt for foods that boost serotonin levels like oatmeal, milk, eggs, nuts, spinach, salmon and turkey.
In recent years, probiotics have received increasing attention, and research has shown several benefits including the role of probiotics in improving depression. In a 2017 study, scientists were able to reverse symptoms of depression in mice by feeding them a probiotic bacteria found in yogurt. More research still needs to be done to understand exactly how probiotics might improve SAD. In the meantime, it makes good sense to add a probiotic supplement to your diet to help boost your defense against seasonal affective disorder.
More Help with Seasonal Depression
If you follow these suggestions, but still are struggling with symptoms of seasonal depression, know there is help. For instance, light exposure treatment is effective for most people with severe SAD symptoms. It involves sitting in front of a full-spectrum light source for a specified amount of time each day, and lights can be purchased without a prescription. However, they work best when a doctor provides guidelines about how to use them.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe an antidepressant if needed. If you are feeling extremely depressed or suicidal, get help right away, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.