Many SAD symptoms mimic those of other conditions or illnesses. A thorough medical assessment and diagnosis by a medical professional is the only way to know for sure if symptoms are signs of SAD. Here are a few of the more common symptoms of SAD.
A variety of factors may contribute to the development of SAD, but the primary trigger appears to be the reduction in exposure to natural sunlight that happens when days shorten and nights lengthen. The cold and dreary environment that so often comes with winter also contributes.
Natural sunlight provides vitamin D, an essential nutrient with many benefits. Vitamin D is important to bone health, because it helps the body absorb calcium. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to to an increased risk of many health problems, including depression and several cancers.
Sunlight also impacts the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, hormones that regulate various functions like mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin has a profound effect on mood, and low levels have been directly linked to disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition, melatonin deficiencies can cause sleeplessness among other issues.
Lack of sun exposure also plays a key role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. Decreased sunlight can throw off the sleep cycle, which can make it difficult to get enough sleep and lead to depression.
Almost everyone who lives in a cold climate has experienced a case of the “Winter Blues.” Let’s face it… a cold wet dreary day can easily bring down our spirits. For some people, however, the cold weather and shorter days of winter bring feelings of despair that go far beyond the typical “winter blues.”
Lots of people struggle with a condition called “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD.” Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder directly related to changes that arrive hand-in-hand with colder temperatures, shorter days, and longer nights. Unlike other forms of depression, SAD usually begins and ends at the same time every year. The condition can have a damaging effect on people’s lives and even become debilitating.
SAD symptoms often start out on the mild side in mid- to late- Autumn as days begin to shorten and temperatures begin to drop and symptoms continue to worsen as Winter settles in for the long haul… only beginning to improve again with the warmer temperatures and longer days of mid- to late- Spring. SAD symptoms often disappear completely with the arrival of summer and its warm temperatures, longer days, and shorter nights.
Unfortunately, seasonal affective disorder has symptoms that are often ignored or overlooked and sometimes mistaken for other medical and psychological issues. But, when diagnosed correctly, SAD can be effectively managed and treated. If you believe you -- or someone you care about – may be suffering from SAD, let your doctor know as soon as possible..
It is important to seek care from a medical professional for the symptoms of SAD, but there are some things you can you do on your own as well as lifestyle changes you can make that may help to counteract the negative effects of winter, improve symptoms, and help you feel better.