Is the cold weather getting you down? Your unhappy mood coinciding with the transition of seasons from summer to fall is no coincidence. Every year between four and six percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to familydoctor.org. SAD is typically more prevalent among adults at or above the age of 20 and is more common in women than men. It is also more common in northern regions, as the winter season tends to be longer and more severe. Symptoms of SAD tend to manifest themselves toward the beginning of fall and persist into winter, according to familydoctor.org.
The particular cause of SAD is unknown, but a combination of the following factors is believed to play a hand. Disruption of your circadian rhythm (24-hour mental, physical and behavioral cycle) is a consequence of the reduced sunlight during the fall and winter seasons. This may lead to depression. This reduced sunlight may cause a decrease in serotonin levels. Serotonin levels in the brain affect mood. A reduced level of serotonin leads to depression. In addition, a change in the levels of the horomone melatonin may contribute to change in sleeping patterns and mood, according to Harvard Health Publications.
The specific symptoms of SAD vary between individuals, but certain signs tend to be common. Physical ailments such as headaches, weight gain due to changes in appetite, fatigue due to a decreased amount of energy and insomnia are usually present. In addition, a person may undergo emotional chances such as hypersensitivity to social rejection, increased irritability and anxiety, and constant feelings of guilt and hopelessness. The aforementioned symptoms of SAD come and go around the same time every year.
SAD is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are so common. Criteria specified by the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) includes experiencing depression for at least two years during the same season every year, periods of depression are followed by periods without depression, and having no other explanations for the changes in your mood or behavior.
There are a number of therapies that can be applied to treat SAD, such as light therapy, medicine therapy and psychotherapy. Light therapy is fairly straightforward — your doctor will instruct you to sit in front of a light box every day as means for your body to obtain light. Medications prescribed for SAD include a variety of antidepressants. Psychotherapy can aid you in recognizing and changing thoughts and behaviors that negatively impact your mood.
Don’t just dismiss physical and emotional changes as simply being under the weather — get help! On-campus resources include Student Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Both are there to help you, so do not hesitate to make an appointment and make a change.