When the seasons start to change from summer into fall it can be a beautiful time. The scenery becomes colorful and the weather has a nice crisp feel to it. For a lot of people, this can be their favorite time of year. It brings thoughts of sipping coffee or hot cider, of watching the colors on the trees change, or of being wrapped up in a blanket around the fireplace. It’s considered to be a cozy time of year for many.
For some people, however, even though they love fall, they may start to notice other things that begin to change around this time of year. For one, they may find that even though the colors in the world bring them happiness, that perhaps they are slightly more on edge or a little more irritable than usual. Maybe things that didn’t quite bother them as much in the summer months are now causing them to be annoyed. Possible problems at work may seem to arise more and the stress of getting things done, meeting deadlines, etc may hover over your head more than usual. You may find that although you were confident in your work a few months ago that perhaps now you’re questioning your abilities. Maybe you’re getting down on yourself more and less enthused about your work than you were before. Perhaps the motivation to jump out of bed in the morning has declined, but it becomes easy to blame it on the world staying darker longer in the morning. You may also find that you’re quicker to indulge in a sweet and savory snack from time to time. So much in fact that you may notice some slight weight gain, but you laugh it off with friends saying you’re just trying to insulate yourself for the upcoming winter months. Although deep down you have feelings of guilt and find yourself crying more. You may find you feel hopeless more than usual, that you have no motivation, that you’re uninterested in the activities you once were, and that your anxiety is at an all time high. You may think that you’re just in a rut. What if it’s more than a rut though? It could be that you’re one of the many that struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
-Feelings of worthlessness and decrease in confidence
-Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
-Changes in appetite, weight gain, and eating more
-Feeling agitated and more irritable than usual
-Difficulty concentrating and staying focused on tasks
-Withdrawing from friends and social events
-Tired and low energy most of the day
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
It’s been said that one of the main reasons people may struggle with this disorder in the fall and winter months is due to being further from the equator and not having as much sunlight for long periods of time. Hence, it makes sense that the majority of the people who do struggle with this disorder are those that reside in the northern most hemispheres of the world. Researchers have also identified that lack of sunlight results in drops of Serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that plays a large role in moods. Along with these causes, it is said that our biological clocks (circadian rhythms) are disrupted in the fall/winter months, which in turn can lead to feelings of depression and sadness. Lastly, lack of sunlight can disrupt the production of Melatonin in our bodies, which plays a role in our moods and sleep patterns. Duration of Seasonal Affective Disorder typically lasts from about mid-September through April or May. Although rare, some people have reported developing SAD in the spring months too.
The last question that remains is what can be done to help reduce the feelings of SAD and to help those that struggle with this disorder. It’s been suggested that bright light therapy is the most effective way to treat people with this disorder. To do this, patients remain in light up to ten times the intensity of normal domestic lighting up to four hours a day. Devices used to portray this light is a bank of white fluorescent lights on a metal reflector and shield with a plastic screen. It has been said that this treatment typically has an 85% success rate on patients. If this does not work for some, other treatments include low dosages of anti-depressants or seeking out psychotherapy services from a trained professional in CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy).
So, as the months change and the seasons come and go, remember to not only pay attention to the environmental changes around you, but also the mental ones. There could be more to it than you may think!