Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der

Asian Journal - - WORLD -

For cen­turies, po­ets and writ­ers have drawn par­al­lels be­tween the weather and mood. We all know how the weather af­fects what we wear, how we travel, what we choose to do, and how we feel.

When weather af­fects us to such an ex­tent that we be­gin to have trou­ble func­tion­ing as usual, how­ever, this can be­come more than just a case of the “win­ter blahs.”

Sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der, or SAD, is a type of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion that usu­ally starts with the short­en­ing days of late au­tumn and lasts through the win­ter. Some peo­ple have a rarer form of SAD which is sum­mer de­pres­sion which be­gins in late spring or early sum­mer.

Since the days of win­ter get shorter, SAD has been found to be more com­mon in north­ern coun­tries. In Canada, about 2 to 3% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion will ex­pe­ri­ence SAD in their life­time. An­other 15% of Cana­di­ans will ex­pe­ri­ence a milder form of SAD where they sim­ply have the “win­ter blues.” SAD can be de­bil­i­tat­ing, pre­vent­ing healthy peo­ple from func­tion­ing nor­mally. It may af­fect their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives and se­ri­ously limit their po­ten­tial. Many peo­ple may be suf­fer­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily—un­aware that SAD ex­ists or that help is avail­able.


• May be sim­i­lar to de­pres­sion mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to di­ag­nose. Even thy­roid prob­lem can look like SAD.

• Change in ap­petite. Of­ten, the per­son gets crav­ings for sweet, starchy, or other car­bo­hy­drate-rich foods. This can re­sult in overeat­ing and weight gain.

• Of­ten tired all the time, tend to over­sleep, and can some­times feel anx­ious and des­o­late.

• Sui­ci­dal thoughts.

Although SAD may af­fect some chil­dren and teenagers, it tends to be­gin in peo­ple over the age of 20. The risk of SAD de­creases with age. SAD is more com­mon in women than in men. Re­search on SAD is still in its early stages. How­ever, it is likely that SAD may be caused by a lack of day­light. Each of us has an in­ter­nal “bi­o­log­i­cal clock” that reg­u­lates our rou­tines, a wakesleep and ac­tive-in­ac­tive cycli­cal rou­tine called a cir­ca­dian rhythm. This bi­o­log­i­cal clock re­sponds to changes in sea­son, partly be­cause of the dif­fer­ences in the length of the day. For many thou­sands of years, the cy­cle of hu­man life re­volved around the daily cy­cle of light and dark. We were alert when the sun shone; we slept when our world was in dark­ness. The rel­a­tively re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of elec­tric­ity has re­lieved us of the need to be ac­tive mostly in the day­light hours. But our bi­o­log­i­cal clocks may still be telling our bod­ies to sleep as the days shorten. This puts us out of step with our daily sched­ules, which no longer change ac­cord­ing to the sea­sons.

One use­ful way to com­bat this is to use light ther­apy, also known as pho­tother­apy. This can be done us­ing a flu­o­res­cent light box, a de­vice now avail­able in a va­ri­ety of safe, eco­nom­i­cal and portable de­signs. Although pho­tother­apy can pro­duce side ef­fects, these are usu­ally mild ex­pe­ri­ences of nau­sea, headaches, eye strains or feel­ings of edgi­ness that go away after us­ing the light box for some time. How­ever, peo­ple with cer­tain med­i­cal con­di­tions or who are tak­ing cer­tain med­i­ca­tions should have spe­cial eye ex­am­i­na­tions be­fore con­sid­er­ing light ther­apy. In ad­di­tion to us­ing SAD lamp life­style changes like ex­er­cise, re­lax­ation, health­ful diet, so­cial sup­ports, med­i­cal sup­ports, and com­pli­ance to med­i­ca­tions are help­ful.

The fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions may help ease or even pre­vent SAD symp­toms from be­com­ing de­bil­i­tat­ing or be help­ful by them­selves for those of us with mild symp­toms of the “win­ter blues”:

• spend more time out­doors dur­ing the day and try to ar­range your en­vi­ron­ments (and sched­ules if you can) to max­i­mize sun­light ex­po­sure

• keep cur­tains open dur­ing the day

• move fur­ni­ture so that you sit near a win­dow or, if you ex­er­cise in­doors, set up your ex­er­cise equip­ment by a win­dow

• in­stall sky­lights and add lamps

• build phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity into your life­style prefer­ably be­fore SAD symp­toms take hold since phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity re­lieves stress, builds en­ergy and in­creases both your phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing and re­silience

• make a habit of tak­ing a daily noon-hour walk • when all else fails, try a win­ter va­ca­tion in sunny cli­mates — if the pock­et­book and work sched­ule al­low — although keep in mind that the symp­toms will re­cur after you re­turn home. When back at home, work at re­sist­ing the car­bo­hy­drate and sleep crav­ings that come with SAD

• as for other kinds of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, for those more se­verely af­fected, an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tion and/ or short-term coun­selling (par­tic­u­larly cog­ni­tive-be­havioural ther­apy) may also prove to be help­ful.

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