Are you affected by seasonal changes?
Spring time is finally here! Warmer temperatures have a way of giving us a boost of happiness and a burst of extra energy. The memories of those short, cold, gray days are slowly fading away in our minds. That daunting feeling that you have when you get up in the morning and look out the window, knowing that it is going to be cold outside, is gone.
Now that spring is here, the birds are happily singing once again. The skies are blue, and the sunshine is undoubtedly brightening my mood. Seeing fresh blossoming flowers on trees definitely puts a smile on my face while taking a Sunday walk with my family. Warm weather allows us to enjoy activities that most of us unfortunately cannot do during the cold months.
For some people, life becomes sad and complicated during the winter. Something takes away the joy that life offers.Cloudy days and cold temperatures can make us feel less energetic throughout the day, to the point where all we want to do is curl up in bed and forget about the responsibility of functioning as a regular member of a busy society.
Every year, starting in October, we notice the days get shorter, colder, and darker. Then, here comes the rain! Rainy weather may play a significant role in our moods and energy levels. Since most of us are not doctors, it can be difficult to understand what is happening in our brain chemistry. If you feel down during the winter months for an extended period of time, and cannot get motivated to enjoy activities you enjoyed in the past, it may be time to see a doctor or therapist to see if you have been affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
I asked a psychologist from Texas, Dennis Ramos, to help us understand this condition, as well as the symptoms and treatments associated with it.
What is SAD?
Dennis Ramos (DR): I have had many patients who experience and struggle with this problem. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to seasonal changes, often beginning and ending around the same time of year, typically starting in winter and getting better in spring or summer.
Research has suggested the cause could be related to changes in exposure to sunlight and reductions in physical activity. The times can vary for different individuals. Although less common, some people experience SAD during spring and summer. Some of my patients have suffered with this problem for years, confused about why it comes and goes, before realizing it is related to seasonal changes.
What are the symptoms?
DR: Like any other depression, a lack of energy and motivation are common. This can develop into loss of interest, withdrawal from social activities, sleep problems, appetite disruption, and problems with focus and concentration. Sometimes depression can progress to loss of libido, agitation, feeling hopeless and worthless, and possibly thoughts of suicide. Relationships can also be affected negatively.
Can SAD be prevented?
DR: Well, there are things we can do to lessen the severity, and hopefully prevent SAD, but some people still have some symptoms regardless. I have found that physical activity is a big help. Walking, working out, yoga, swimming, and dancing are some good examples. Creative activities can be helpful as well — things like playing music, artwork, crafts, woodworking, and writing. Exposure to sunlight can also be very beneficial, being outdoors, or if the weather is bad, try sitting next to a window.
Full spectrum lighting is something to consider also. You can purchase a lamp or light fixture with full spectrum bulbs, similar to sunlight, then expose your face and skin to the light for a few hours each day. I have read that taking some nutritional supplements can help with symptoms of SAD. These include vitamin D3, fish oil, B-complex vitamins, and probiotics. Many of my patients have had their depressive symptoms improve using these.
Most people who use these strategies can relieve some or most of their symptoms.
When is it time to call the doctor?
DR: If you think you may need help with symptoms of SAD, you can speak to a therapist, counselor, or doctor. A counselor or therapist can help understand and identify the problem, as well as develop a plan to cope with it.
Like most who suffer with depression, there are some signs that it is time to visit a medical doctor for possible prescription medications. Are you sad or angry much of the time? Are you withdrawing from your friends, family, and loved ones? If your daily functioning is seriously affected by your symptoms, if your sleep or appetite are seriously disrupted for a significant period of time, if it causes substantial problems with your job or relationships, it is a good time to ask for help from a professional. Suicidal thoughts, even if they are infrequent, signal that it is time to get some help.
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Many thanks to our psychologist, Dennis Ramos, for helping us understand the details about SAD. If you have any symptoms of this type of depression, or any depression, be sure to talk to a therapist and consult your doctor. By doing so, you can enjoy, once again, life and its simple pleasures.
Originally published at medium.com