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When the summer comes to an end and the days begin to get shorter, you may be noticing a drain in your energy levels and a lack of motivation for things that you normally find easy and manageable. If you find yourself unable to function normally or without feeling overwhelmed during these winter months, you’re not alone. You may be one of the 5% of adults in the US experiencing seasonal affective disorder (or SAD for short), which is a depression that people experience in a seasonal pattern.

What does SAD do to your brain? As the days get shorter, you are experiencing less sunlight. Unfortunately, this can cause a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that contributes to overall happiness, so when it is decreased it can lead to feelings of depression. Additionally, this decrease in sunlight can disrupt your body’s internal clock which can also lead to feelings of depression.

What are some symptoms of SAD? For individuals experiencing this disorder, they may experience feelings of sadness and depression along with a loss of interest in activities that they had originally enjoyed. There may be changes in their sleep schedule, usually causing the individual to sleep too much. Even though the amount of time sleeping may be increased, the individual might feel very fatigued. Also, changes in appetite may cause a craving for more food, especially for carbohydrates. Other common symptoms may be feeling worthless, difficulty thinking, and an increase in activities that have no purpose such as pacing.

How is SAD treated? If you are concerned that you may be experiencing some of these symptoms, there is no need to worry. There are multiple ways that SAD can be treated. One common way is light therapy, in which the individual with SAD sits in front of a light therapy box that emits a very strong and bright light for about 20 minutes a day. Light treatment is maintained throughout the winter in order to make sure the individual gets all of the benefits. Another way that SAD is treated is through CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), which is a therapy in which the client makes short-term goals and works on changing patterns of thinking and behavior associated with negative symptoms of SAD. Nutrition can also have a positive impact on SAD symptoms. Asking your physician to check your Vitamin D levels can be a helpful step, as many people need to supplement this important nutrient during the winter months to support depression and immune function. Similarly to other depressive mental disorders, individuals with SAD may benefit from SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are antidepressants that can help increase the amount of serotonin in an individual’s brain in order to increase feelings of happiness.

Different treatments work for different people, and not all treatments will work for everyone. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms listed above, or feel as if you are struggling with your mental health in the winter months, you should reach out to a trained medical professional. If you get the right treatment for SAD, it is easily manageable and it can make it possible to get back to your normal, happy life.

– Haidyn Emmerich
Nourish Your Mind Blog Contributor
Neuroscience & Psychology Student – Syracuse University
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