Are you feeling depressed during the winter months more than you would like? Perhaps you have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression.
Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that occurs every year at the same time. A more rare form of the disease known as “summer depression”, starts in late spring or early summer and it ends in fall. The usual seasonal depression starts in autumn or winter and ends in early summer.
What causes seasonal depression?
There are two forms of this disorder. The first begins in autumn and lasts through winter and the second begins in late spring or early summer. The first form of seasonal depression, known as the “winter depression” is more widespread and more studied than the second.
Hormones produced by the brain, with the arrival of a certain season, affect human behavior in this time of the year. Scientists believe that seasonal depression is closely linked to these hormonal changes. One theory says that the lack of sunlight during autumn reduces the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has calming and analgesic effect. As a result, an inadequate amount of serotonin leads to depressive mood and the manifestation of symptoms such as fatigue, lack of sugars and weight gain.
Because food rich in carbohydrates (biscuits, crisps, salted sticks) promotes the development of serotonin, it is believed that it has a soothing effect on the body and mind.
Seasonal depression appears for the first time after the age of 18 and is more common in women than in men. At some people, seasonal depression manifests in mild irritation and at other people symptoms are more severe and affect personal relationships and the health.
Because this disease is caused by a lack of sunlight, it is rarely found in the tropical climate where summer lasts all year round.
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression during winter?
- Decrease of vitality
- Trouble in focusing
- Increase of appetite
- Necessity to spend time alone
- Increased drowsiness
- Weight gain
What are the symptoms of summer depression?
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Sleeping problems
How the seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed?
It is very important that you do not self-diagnose and self-medicate yourself. If you notice symptoms of depression, contact your doctor for a detailed examination. Sometimes, certain physical diseases can also cause symptoms of depression. At the same time the symptoms of seasonal depression may indicate a more complex mental condition. During the examination the doctor needs to determine the status of the symptoms and, accordingly, to appoint an effective treatment.
How to treat seasonal affective disorder?
Depending on the complexity of the situation, there are different methods of treatment. The method of treatment depends on whether you have other type of depression or bipolar disorder. With the seasonal affective disorder is recommended to spend more time on the street, in order to fill the need of daylight. If this is not possible because of the dark winter months, antidepressants and phototherapy are prescribed.
What is light therapy?
Light therapy consists of a full range of bright light aimed straight in the eye. The patient sits at a distance of 300 meters from the source of bright light, which is 20 times brighter than normal room lighting. Treatment starts with a 10-15 minute session, increasing to 30-45 minutes a day, depending on the patient’s response.
Some patients recover after a few sessions. Others need a little more time. If the improvement does not occur, then the doctor may increase the light treatment to two sessions a day. If the light therapy brings relief the patients are advised to continue the sessions as a preventive measure until spring arrives.
Is phototherapy an effective treatment?
Some researchers attributed the emergence of seasonal depression with melatonin hormone, which causes lethargy. When light hits the retina, it triggers a process in the body, resulting in reducing the secretion of melatonin. Thus, the light reduces the amount of melatonin and provokes the secretion of serotonin. It is therefore considered that light therapy has antidepressant effect.
Modern experts believe that using light therapy can also treat eating disorders, insomnia and severe depression (condition not related to seasonal depression). Studies have shown that taking antidepressants along with the passage of light therapy sessions, gives a positive result to improve mood and increase vitality.
Is it possible to prevent seasonal affective disorder?
If you already had episodes of seasonal depression, the following tips will help you avoid it in the future:
Try to spend more time outdoors, even if there is overcast weather. You’ll still get the necessary portion of daylight.
Even if you haven’t experienced the manifestation of symptoms, begin with the arrival of autumn to attend sessions of electro-phototherapy.
Even if you haven’t experienced the manifestation of the symptoms, begin with the arrival of autumn to attend sessions of phototherapy.
Follow a well-balanced diet to ensure that you receive all the necessary vitamins and microelements. This will help you stay vigorous, despite the body’s need for carbohydrate and sweet products.
Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week.
Try to remain active in your social life and daily activities. For people with mood disorders social support plays a critical role in the process of recovery.
When it’s time to seek for a doctor’s help?
If you have feeling of depression, fatigue and irritability during certain times of the year, and it is repeated again every year and at the same time, you may have a form of seasonal affective disorder. Tell your doctor about your feelings. Follow his recommendations about treatment and possibilities of changing living habits.
If the doctor prescribed to you light therapy, ask him to undergo this treatment in his clinic. You can also rent or a buy a special lamp, but it won’t be cheap. Although light therapy side effects are almost absent, be careful if you have sensitive skin or if you are prone to obsession (being in an extremely excited state and having the inability to sleep).