Why Do People Get Sad? The Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Woman Suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Everybody gets sad from time-to-time, and everybody has their own triggers. For many, all it takes is a change of seasons to experience this detrimental mood-shift.

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects one in three people in the UK alone. But why do people get sad when the season changes? Keep reading to learn more about SAD.

What Is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a major depressive disorder brought on by a change in the season. Specifically, it happens during the colder winter months. It’s most typical in young adults and women, but can affect anyone at any time.

Sufferers of SAD may experience bleak thought processes, depression, and even suicidal thoughts during the colder months.  This can cause troubles in their personal lives, their work, and their overall health.

Some common symptoms of wintertime SAD include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritable mood/mood swings
  • Feelings of lethargy
  • Sudden weight gain
  • General poor mood/lack of happiness
  • Lack of motivation, even for activities you usually enjoy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Oversleeping
  • Low Energy

It’s also important to note that SAD can happen in the summertime as well as the wintertime. It’s just far more common in the cold months than the warm ones. Some symptoms are more common with warm-weather SAD, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Craving bad foods/bad appetite

Why Do People Get SAD?

There’s no concrete reason why some people feel the effects of SAD and others don’t. However, there are theories as to what might contribute to SAD.

SAD can happen at any time to any person. It can come on suddenly, or it can be present from birth. It does, however, affect people in certain locations more than others.

For example, SAD is much more common in places like Alaska and Canada, where there’s snow and frigid temperatures for a good portion of the year. These locations experience less sunlight, meaning people get less sunlight in general. This can have a negative effect on hormones, mood regulation, and sleep schedules, which can lead to depression.

When you experience less sunlight than recommended, your circadian rhythm is thrown off. When your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, is off, you fall prey to depression and anxiety.

Reduced light can also lead to a drop in serotonin, one of the main chemicals that affect mood. Without enough serotonin, you’ll feel more depressed. A change in seasons can also mess with your melatonin levels, creating changes in your sleep pattern and mood.

You may also be at higher risk of SAD if your family has a history of depression or other psychological conditions. If you have a known psychological condition like bipolar or depression, it might get worse when the season changes. 

Getting a Diagnosis

SAD can be difficult to diagnose initially. The symptoms of SAD are similar to several other conditions. These include bipolar, mononucleosis, and hypothyroidism, as well as other conditions like severe depression and anxiety.

The doctor will perform a series of tests to rule out as many conditions as possible. If they can rule out most conditions, they’ll ask you about the specifics of the condition. They may ask when you first noticed it, how frequently the symptoms occur, and about your current lifestyle.

It’s important to see a doctor as soon as you can if you think you might have SAD. There’s no reason to suffer through feelings of depression if they can be dealt with. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can get back to your regular schedule.

Can SAD Be Treated?

There’s no chemical solution to treating SAD. Like many psychological disorders, you can’t just make it go away with drugs.

Managing SAD can be done, though. Many people seek out therapy or counseling to help deal with their SAD. Sometimes, talking about it is enough to get a SAD sufferer through the season.

Other people choose to go through light therapy. Light therapy is a way of simulating natural light using a special visor or lightbox. The patient does this for half an hour or longer each day, allowing them to get the sunlight they miss out on in the winter.

Another good practice is following a healthy lifestyle. A simple regimen of exercise, plenty of sleep, and a healthy diet is sometimes enough to stave off symptoms of SAD. 

If all else fails, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed for SAD. It’s likely a good idea to go through every other option before resorting to this method, though. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of SAD, speak to your doctor as soon as you can.

Can I Treat SAD at Home?

There are a few ways you can combat SAD from the comfort of your own home.

One thing you can do is buy your own light therapy box. With your own light therapy box, you don’t have to visit a doctor to get treatments. You can get the light you crave at any time of the day without needing to disrupt your usual schedule.

You could also invest in a dawn simulator. These are types of alarm clocks that produce bright light rather than sound. They’ll slowly increase in light intensity, allowing you to wake up in a natural, SAD-fighting way.

Working out is one of the easiest, most effective ways to fight SAD from home. Set up a home gym, go out for a walk on a sunny day, or just do some simple stretches.

Aromatherapy is another way people with SAD find relief. The smell of essential oils is a great mood booster, and can even have positive effects on your circadian rhythm.

You Don’t Have to Be SAD

If you or a loved one suffer from SAD, you’re not alone. Now that you know why do people get SAD, you know how to better deal with it. Take the helpful tips above into account and get back to your regular lifestyle.

For more articles like this, and ways to save money, check out the rest of our blog.

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