Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Affect Any of Us

By Grace Ekalle

Happy holidays, Gators — but are the holidays always a happy time for us all? The change from fall to winter can bring out sadness in many, myself included. Days end earlier, nights are longer, and people start feeling more anxious, sluggish, and isolated. This can be due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly known as Seasonal Depression. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that is triggered by the change of seasons (both summer and winter) and affects about 5% of adults in the US (which is about 16 million people); it tends to start in early adulthood (between the ages of 18 and 30) and typically affects women more than men.

Are you experiencing symptoms? According to Cleveland Clinic, symptoms may include:

  • Sadness, feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
  • Anxiety.
  • Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.
  • Extreme fatigue and lack of energy.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling irritated or agitated.
  • Limbs (arms and legs) that feel heavy.
  • Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, including withdrawing from social activities.
  • Sleeping problems (usually oversleeping).
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Researchers do not know exactly what causes seasonal depression, but research suggests it can be caused by biological clock changes, like daylight savings and the transition from fall to winter, and spring to summer. It may also be caused by lower levels of serotonin and Vitamin D in our bodies, but also could be due to an increase in melatonin or negative thoughts.

How do I minimize the impact of seasonal depression? (Editors Tip: Never self-diagnose. Talk to a licensed professional for proper diagnosis).

  • Go outside: Nothing beats the sun! Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day for your natural dose of vitamin D!
  • Try a lamp: Maybe the sun isn’t your thing. That’s okay, try light therapy using a lamp. Light therapy includes utilizing a special lamp light that is about 20 times brighter than regular indoor light and has white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays.  Don’t look directly into the light, instead place the lamp about two to three feet away while you read, eat, work or do other activities. For best results, use this lamp every morning for 2 weeks.
  • Take Vitamin D: Okay, so light just isn’t your thing at all, so the next option is to take vitamin D supplements. Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression, and those who experience negative emotions and who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in symptoms.
  • Consider contacting a professional: If all else fails, consider contacting your primary care doctor or a licensed professional who can assist with bringing medication and/or talk-therapy into the equation. Medications called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can treat SAD as they help to improve your mood by regulating serotonin levels in your body.
  • Talk to someone: Make an appointment with the NDMU Counseling Center. Explore campus resources here: NDMU Counseling Center.

Gators, it might not be the most “beautiful time of the year” for some of us, but that’s okay. Take time to understand what it might be that is causing SAD in you. Fortunately, there are ways to treat SAD so consider talking to a professional, a friend, or a family member for guidance on ways to lessen the impacts of SAD. Or, you can refer back to my article, whichever suits you!

See you next semester!

-Dr. Alli G. Ator (not a licensed medical professional)

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