symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

5 Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Is there a particular time of year you dread because you get sad, lack energy, and just don’t feel like your “normal” self? If so, you may be experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You are not alone. About ten to 20 percent of Americans report having the winter blues.

Another five percent of the population experiences symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. They are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder.

In this article, you will learn more about the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs when one or more of the seasons change. Most people with SAD find the Winter season is when symptoms are at their highest. This is also when there are fewer daylight hours and more time spent inside. However, some experience SAD in the Spring and Summer.

There are symptoms that seem to be shared among people with SAD. You don’t need to have all of the signs to be diagnosed with the disorder. Also, you may have symptoms that are not common. If you notice symptoms reoccurring around the same time each year, reach out to a licensed mental health professional for an assessment.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are certain common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, each of which will affect the individual differently. Like many mental health disorders, season affective disorder can pose a variety of different symptoms based on the individual. With that said, there are some common signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Here are the most common signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Sleep Disturbances

Those with seasonal affective disorder in late Fall and Winter report a change in sleep patterns. They find it harder to wake up in the mornings—some report going to bed earlier. You may be oversleeping but feel as if you have not gotten any rest. 

In the spring and summer, someone with SAD reports they have trouble falling or staying asleep and often feel restless. Sleep disturbances lead to other problems, including irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and an increase in depression and anxiety.

Appetite and Weight changes

Winter is sometimes associated with less activity. Depending on where you live, it can be freezing with snow and ice on the ground. This is not the kind of weather that encourages you to get outside and exercise. Instead, many choose to stay inside where it is warm. 

Studies show Winter SAD is associated with a higher intake of carbohydrates and sugars and less exercise. Weight gain is bound to happen. Spring and Summer SAD is marked by loss of appetite and weight loss.

Increased Mental Health Symptoms

In working with people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, researchers found those with Winter SAD to have higher levels of depression, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide. Those with bipolar disorder report longer and more severe depressive episodes in the Winter and increased mania in Spring and Summer.

Other mental health symptoms that may increase in either season include eating disorders, obsessive-compulsiveness, substance use disorders, and misuse.

Changes in Movements

Everyone has their usual way of walking, talking, and overall functioning. Everything you do is at a natural pace specific to you. Some people who struggle with SAD notice a change in their movements. For example, speech may become slower than usual, or reaction times may be delayed. Or the opposite can happen in which speech and movements are faster and more hyperactive. Others like coworkers, family, and friends who see you regularly will likely notice these changes.

Loss of Interest

If you have ever had one of those days where you want to hide out from the world, it’s nice to spend time alone. But if that day turns into a whole season, you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder.

It’s common for people with untreated SAD to isolate and withdraw from family and friends. They may do their best to get through the workday so they can get back home and disappear into their comfort zone. SAD causes you to avoid activities you once enjoyed doing. It takes away the joy and interest of hanging out with friends and participating in group activities.

You don’t have to battle SAD alone. It is treatable, and you can get back to enjoying life during all four seasons.

Medication for SAD

The first step in getting treatment for seasonal affective disorder is to receive an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional. The assessment results will confirm your diagnosis of SAD and be used to create a treatment plan.

SAD treatment plans may include medication. Traditional antidepressants boost serotonin levels in the brain, which are often reduced during winter months due to less sunlight. If you have tried medications in the past, but they didn’t work, there is good news. Psychiatrists are implementing new therapies, like ketamine-assisted treatment, to help those who have tried everything else.

Psychotherapy for SAD

Medication combined with therapy is an evidence-based combination for success. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) are just a few examples of techniques your therapist may use when helping you overcome SAD.

If you qualify for ketamine-assisted therapy, you can combine your treatment with psychotherapy, a technique proven to enhance and lengthen the effects of ketamine by weeks.

Light Therapy and Vitamin D

During the winter months, the days are shorter, and you don’t get as much sunlight and vitamin D that is required to produce adequate amounts of melatonin and serotonin. Deficiencies like this are what cause sleep disturbances and feelings of depression. 

You can purchase light therapy lamps today that produce enough bright light that sitting in front of it for thirty minutes a day will elevate chemical levels in the brain.

Your psychiatrist can order blood testing that will show the exact vitamin D levels in your system. Using the results, your doctor can prescribe the correct amount of vitamin D supplements you need to account for the loss caused by SAD.

Final Takeaway

Seasonal affective disorder is a predictable, seasonal condition. For this reason, you can start preparing for SAD long before the season arrives. You can avoid most of the symptoms by creating a SAD plan that incorporates therapy, medication, and other supplemental therapies. If you think you have SAD, reach out to our specialists today to get started on your plan for healing.