As we approach the fall season many people begin to experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is a very common mood disorder that is characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year.
The symptoms of SAD include feeling tired, depressed, hopelessness, and withdrawing socially.
The exact causes of SAD are unknown, but there are several factors that seem to increase the likelihood of experiencing the condition, these include:
- Reduced levels of light in the fall and winter can disrupt your body's biological clock (circadian rhythm).
- A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Low levels of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, trigger depression.
- Changing seasons can disrupt the body's level of melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep patterns and mood.
When to See Your Doctor
Having an occasional day when you feel down is normal, but don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal depression that you have to deal with on your own.
Feeling depressed to days at a time that leads to a lack of motivation and activity can signal a major depression. It's especially important to see your doctor if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, have suicidal thoughts, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), talk therapy and medications. Your doctor can also give you tips to keep your mood and motivation on an even keel throughout the year.