Posted on November 28, 2021 | Author Prof (Dr.) Yasir Hassan Rather / Dr Kubra Farooq Wani
Seasonal affective disorder – a question mark for a layman. Can this be true? Can winters really soak my mood? Isn’t my mood primarily affected by things that happen to me or that I have control over? Can a change of season cause anything other than colds and flu? Plus, what’s amazing is that it can really cause depression?
But the reality is this: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) exists that goes unnoticed by many but it does. Seasons have as much influence on mental stability as situational stressors.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to the change of seasons. SAD often begins and ends at around the same time each year. Symptoms likely start in the fall and continue into the winter months, draining energy and making one feel cranky.
SAD includes the most commonly heard symptoms of depression, including:
· Feeling weak most of the day, almost every day.
· Lack of interest in activities that an individual generally enjoys.
· Lack of motivation.
· Withdrawal and isolation from loved ones.
· Inability to concentrate and focus on job performance and household chores.
· Lethargy and fatigue.
· Thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness.
· Thoughts of death or suicide.
In addition, individuals tend to present a cluster of symptoms made up of so-called “reverse” or “atypical” vegetative symptoms.
While the classic vegetative symptoms of depression are loss of appetite, weight, and sleep, people with SAD experience:
· Increased sleep.
· Intense daytime sleepiness despite prolonged sleep time.
· Eat too much.
· Craving for foods containing complex carbohydrates (eg chocolates and candies) which are mainly eaten in the afternoon or evening.
· Increased appetite often leads to weight gain in winter.
How often is SAD?
SAD is four times more common in women than in men. The age of onset of seasonal affective disorder is estimated to be between 18 and 30 years old, and it has been observed that it rarely affects people under the age of 20.
SAD increases after puberty and the prevalence is highest in the mid-childbearing years, then decreases with old age.
What Are the Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The dominant theory in this area is that light affects our circadian rhythm by training our brain’s internal clock and keeping it in sync with our environment. However, our circadian rhythm is interrupted by changes in the light cycle that can cause cognitive and emotional problems such as irregular sleep patterns and mood swings.
Light matters a lot because it stimulates our mood and energy. To regulate our mood and physiology, photosensitive cells send light information to the brain via the optic nerve in the eye. From there, neurons in the brain relay light information to regulate mood and hormone release, altering physiological functions depending on the season of the year.
The exact mechanisms that occur in the brain for light to regulate mood are poorly understood, but evidence supports that light can regulate serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter, as well as melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. .
In the summer, when most people get a lot of natural light, it promotes changes in the body allowing for an increased sense of well-being, more energy and a good mood. In the fall, most people spend less time outdoors, combined with days with fewer hours of sunlight. Many don’t get enough natural light to maintain brain signals to “feel happy” and begin to feel sad.
How do you know if it’s a winter blues or seasonal affective disorder?
Winter blues is a mental state made up of feelings of sadness and fatigue during the colder, darker months of the year. Some mornings can be difficult to get out of bed, you may have trouble sleeping, and you may feel unmotivated to complete daily chores or to go out. However, the winter blues are temporary and don’t affect your ability to function throughout the day and enjoy life. You might feel depressed, but you are still doing your necessary daily chores, such as going to work and doing housework. But if your winter blues start to permeate every aspect of your life, from work to personal relationships, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder and Kashmir
“Wande” – Kashmir’s winter season spans months in total and also has a harsh bone chill period known as “Chilai Kalan”.
Winters in Kashmir not only bring cold and drop in temperature, but they also bring many challenges that make Kashmiris more vulnerable to depressive characteristics. From the lack of adequate facilities like electricity to the lack of recreational facilities, everything affects the operation.
There is heavy snowfall which causes snow accumulation on the roads, making the roads slippery and therefore dangerous for travel. The slowness of snow clearing further worsens the situation of the populations because it leads to the entrenchment of dozens of areas of the valley and thus endangers the daily activities of the populations.
People spend most of the time indoors, in a dark and gloomy environment, without sufficient light. This decreases social interactions and makes them lazy and less productive. As a result, sadness makes its way into their lives. While these feelings may be temporary for some, many people struggle constantly during the winter months with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD, like other types of depression, not only affects the way a person feels, but it also has an intense impact on day-to-day functioning, which can affect a person’s productivity and can isolate an individual as well. others. People may feel like they’ve spent half the year happy, and then one day they wake up feeling different, and all of a sudden it all feels like a struggle and it’s hovering like a black cloud over- above them.
How to overcome it?
Some people notice that their symptoms start to improve as the season begins to change, and as spring approaches, they feel more energetic. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of things a person can do during the winter months to help cope with the symptoms. It is best to prepare for the winter season by starting as early as the fall season.
You have to engage in enjoyable activities, try to stay in touch with loved ones as much as possible, initiate outings and participate in leisure activities that are personally enjoyable. Regularly participating in these activities in advance is much easier than trying to start from scratch once the winter blues have set in.
The COVID 19 pandemic could make seasonal affective disorder even more difficult to deal with as a lot of time is spent indoors versus outdoors, but as said before, there are ways to feel better.
Treating SAD is important because all forms of depression limit people’s ability to live their lives to the fullest, enjoy their families, and perform well at work. If you’ve noticed a change in your feelings, thoughts, and behavior for more than two weeks, you should talk to a psychiatrist. They will be able to tell you what help and support is available and may refer you to talk therapy, such as counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy, or even prescribe medication.
Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying negative thought patterns that are contributing to symptoms, and then replacing those thoughts with more positive ones. To help you manage SAD, here are a few options you might want to consider.
Spending time outdoors
Going for walks, especially around noon or on sunny days, can be effective in reducing symptoms. Spending time outdoors is the most popular way to cope with the changes and pressures of the past 18 months. Spending time in parks or gardens, or just sitting by a window can also help.
Physical activity can also be very effective in improving your mood and increasing your energy levels. It doesn’t have to be something particularly strenuous – cleaning, gardening, or going for a gentle walk can all help. Research shows that outdoor exercise, such as cycling or jogging, may be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.
It is important to try to stay present and attentive, especially outdoors. During your walks, appreciate the beauty of the changing leaves of colors, or the immensity of the sky.
Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and protein.
Take vitamin D supplementation
Research has shown that people with SAD often have low levels of vitamin D. For this reason, people are encouraged to increase their intake of this vitamin through food (milk, cheese, fish, egg yolk, etc. mushrooms), sun exposure or vitamin supplementation.
Vitamin D is made in the skin when it is exposed to the sun. Exposure to the sun is by far the best way to increase vitamin D levels. It is important to note that UVB rays from the sun cannot penetrate through windows. Thus, people who work next to sunny windows are always prone to vitamin D deficiency. Noon is the best time to soak up the sun.
Establish a sleep routine
Stick to a regular bedtime every day. Avoid daytime naps to reap the benefits of daylight.
Find quality time
Spend time with family members. Talking with family members will prove to be therapeutic as it can relieve isolation and feelings of loneliness. Getting involved in housework with other family members or helping your child with homework will also help ease feelings of sadness. Try to stick to the daily routine as much as possible and keep in touch with loved ones, in person or through video chat.
Light therapy can be very essential in relieving symptoms of sadness. People should try to get more natural light during the day.
Finally, it is important to keep warm during the cold season because we have seen that being cold can make you sadder and more depressed. This can be done by taking hot drinks and hot foods.
People deserve to heal, recover and grow. Seasonal Affective Disorder requires more awareness and discussion.