If you experience mood changes and depression at the same time each year, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s more common during cold winter months when sunlight is low, but with warmer weather and our brightest season approaching, you can prepare now to manage summer-onset depression.
Why Are You SAD?
Seasonal changes affect up to 10 percent of U.S. adults — mostly women because of hormonal changes. Research has found seasonal affective disorder is more likely to occur in people living farther away from the equator. Sufferers tend to hibernate during bitter, dark, wet and dreary winters. The American Psychiatric Association notes that January and February are the most difficult months for SAD patients. In summer, some people have adverse reactions to heat and humidity. For others, extended daylight misaligns their body’s natural clock or circadian rhythms.
Be on the lookout for the ways this disorder can affect your mood and behavior. Winter indications include craving sugary foods, overeating, weight gain, irritability, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, lethargy, fatigue, body aches, anxiety, depression, decreased activity, increased social withdrawal, sleeping too much and loss of sex drive. Summer symptoms include decreased appetite, weight loss, anxiety, agitation, sleep problems and increased sex drive.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you meet the qualifications for a SAD diagnosis by showing the following criteria:
Depression and other SAD symptoms during the same season for a minimum of two consecutive years
Depression-free periods following seasonal depression episodes
Unexplainable mood and behavior changes
Lighten up Your Mornings With Illumination
Light box therapy of 10,000 lux for 30 to 90 minutes per day, preferably in the morning, benefits 60 to 80 percent of winter SAD sufferers. In summer, 30 to 60 minutes of daily early morning sunlight can shift your body clock forward. Research also shows the following medical and home remedies can help you cope with recurring seasonal sadness.
Cheer up Your Mood With Prescription Medications
Because SAD stems from a neurological imbalance of essential brain chemicals including serotonin and dopamine, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant for severe symptoms. Most antidepressant drugs take time to reach full effectiveness, so your physician may recommend starting treatment before your SAD symptoms recur and continuing it after the season ends.
Extended-release Bupropion XL (Wellbutrin XL) is extremely effective in SAD therapy. By inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, it helps alleviate the occurrence of depressive episodes and reduces symptom intensity in many patients. Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescriptions including Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Citalopram (Celexa) also provide effective SAD treatment.
Perk up Your Health With Vitamin Supplements
Vitamin B. The B vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and folic acid, can be helpful in controlling mild depression.
Vitamin D. Reduced sunlight exposure in winter can lead to vitamin D deficiency. A study compared the effects of 0, 400 and 800 IU (international units) of Vitamin D per day for five days on SAD subjects in late winter. Both Vitamin D dosages provided the same significant improvement. Researchers concluded taking vitamin D supplements is an effective cure for winter seasonal affective disorder patients.
Fish oil. Recent studies suggest that fish oil’s omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in maintaining a healthy emotional balance.
An iron deficiency can cause depression. Anemia often makes tolerating cold more difficult. Schedule regular blood tests to check your iron so you can offset low levels with supplements.
This supplement helps with insomnia when you take it at bedtime.
Spice up Your Life With Herbal Remedies
This herb type includes American ginseng, astragalus and devil’s club, which help your body cope with stress.
Skull cap, kava kava and oat straw nervine herbs calm anxiety. Mood-boosting lemon balm tea also offers anti-depressive and antiviral properties that are useful in winter.
Mood-enhancing herbs. Adding cinnamon, ginger, licorice or orange peel to tea can help improve your outlook.
SAMe. This powerful mood lifter is a natural compound found in nearly every body tissue and fluid. SAMe influences the metabolism of dopamine and serotonin, which help control your mood. A depression study showed 66 percent of its SAMe subjects exhibited significant improvement.
St. John’s Wort. Consume St. John’s Wort tincture for at least four weeks to enjoy its full anti-depressive benefits. Or take the extract form for about eight weeks to feel its maximum effects.
Lift up Your Spirits With Aromatherapy
Scientific research shows SAD sufferers are relatively more sensitive to smells, so revitalizing essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds may elevate your mood.
Essential oils. Inhaling citrus fruit essential oils like bergamot, grapefruit and orange essence has uplifting and antidepressant affects. Place a few drops in an essential oil diffuser, aromatherapy inhaler or cotton ball and inhale the scent. Study participants’ anxiety and insomnia improved significantly after eight weeks of treatment with Hypericum essential oil from the St. John’s Wort plant.
Aromatherapy baths. Warm baths with herbs like peppermint and essential oils such as rosemary can help wash away anxiety and depression while encouraging indulgent relaxation.
Are You Ready for Happiness?
Some SAD symptoms are similar to signs of physical disorders, so seek a medical diagnosis. After ruling out underactive thyroid, hypoglycemia, mononucleosis and other viral infections, your doctor may prescribe medical treatment for your mood disorder. Ask about possible interactions before combining herbal remedies with prescriptions. Then add some home remedies to enjoy year-round happiness.