What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression specifically related to and caused by changing seasons. Most commonly, symptoms of SAD begin in the fall and carry through into the winter, sapping energy and bringing on common symptoms of depression, including loss of interest in activities one once enjoyed, low energy or feelings of sluggishness, problems sleeping or sleeping too much, difficulty concentrating, and even suicidal ideation in some cases.

The specific causes of seasonal affective disorder remain unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to or heighten symptoms of SAD, including:

  • The body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, which is a critically important chemical in the brain that helps to regulate an individual’s mood.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can alter the production of melatonin, which plays a large role in sleep patterns as well as mood.

Despite the lack of definitive research as to the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are certain things that everyone can do to help manage SAD symptoms. Some tips include:

  • Get outside for at least 30 minutes each day, even if just for a short walk around your neighborhood or workplace.
  • Self-administering light therapy can be incredibly helpful for symptoms of SAD during the winter months, either through the use of light therapy lamps made for this purpose or by taking in direct sunlight by sitting near a window each morning, for instance.
  • Eat vitamin-rich foods and supplement your vitamin D intake with supplements. Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to symptoms of SAD. (Click here for a list of 7 foods rich in vitamin D.)
  • Adjust your daily routine to account for the shorter days and lack of sunlight by going to bed earlier and waking up earlier.

Feeling down, or even depressed, as it begins to get colder and darker outside is completely normal. For those who may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, it is important to recognize that you are not alone.

If you find yourself feeling down for many days at a time, struggling to maintain healthy sleep habits, or noticing drastic changes in your appetite or level of alcohol consumption, it may be time to seek support from a medical professional.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for the support you deserve. Bloom Health Centers believes that you should never have to feel alone in your journey toward better mental health. Our unique Care Team Model supports both in-person and virtual appointments. With clinical locations throughout the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. region, our dedicated team will ensure you receive individualized treatment options to support you and your needs in every season. Contact us.

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