Seasonal Affective Disorder | Ending Winter Depression

Wonder Why Winter Makes You Down? Sad Depression Symptoms Can Be Beaten

Winter probably has been bringing on feelings of sad depression for some people forever, but for most of history, nobody knew why. Researcher Norman Rosenthal pinned it down in 1984 with his description of seasonal affective disorder.

Rosenthal quite literally shined a light on the disorder with his theory that treating patients suffering from seasonal symptoms with light exposure could relieve the load. Other researchers picked up where he left off, finding out that fresh air, good nutrition and exercise also help lift the bad moods, physical symptoms and discomfort of SAD.

The research has unearthed interesting ideas and facts about the disorder, which is diagnosed by process of elimination and the presence of symptoms for more than one season. While a few people get SAD in the summer, it is mainly a winter phenomenon that comes on during the autumn, when days shorten and natural light becomes scarce.

For those wondering why they feel symptoms of depression in the winter, here are some of the key points about SAD:

  • Symptoms typically include extreme tiredness and sleeping too much, which triggers a hormonal response that perpetuates a cycle that leaves patients fatigued and out of sorts. When sleep habits get out of whack, serotonin levels drop in the brain, something seen also in full-blown depression.
  • Patients with SAD report a slow degeneration into the disorder, starting in fall and worsening as winter goes on. Keeping track of the timing and pattern leads to a diagnosis of the disorder, but more than one season with symptoms is needed to be certain.
  • Other symptoms include weight gain, likely from craving starchy foods, along with low energy, feeling mildly ill and poor mood and concentration.
  • Treatment with light, improved nutrition, exercise and fresh air, including using clean air machines to purify the air, have been shown to help cure the symptoms of SAD.

You Can’t Beat SAD Until You Understand It

Defeating SAD means understanding the enemy, which strikes more prominently in northern climates, where people get less light exposure in the winter.

A doctor may want to run tests to make sure another problem is not the culprit, but a consistent pattern of seasonal symptoms likely points right to SAD.

Crucial points about dealing with SAD include:

  • If nothing is done to curb the symptoms, patients eventually can fall into full depression, which has life-changing consequences, such as suicidal thoughts, so getting it diagnosed and treated is paramount.
  • In addition to environmental factors, genetics, hormones, age and other physiological components can figure into SAD. Long periods of darkness during winter, for example, can trigger an explosion of the hormone melatonin, sending the person into seasonal depression.
  • More women than men are diagnosed with SAD, and the first symptoms can appear as early as the teenage years.

Beyond Medication -- Natural Ways to Fight SAD

Although some people need medication to cure SAD, natural remedies can help turn around the symptoms and make winter easier to bear.

Successful treatments include:

  • Light therapy, using specially designed lights for prescribed periods of time each day, which triggers the same response normally seen in the brain during periods of more natural light. This helps the body’s natural circadian rhythm--based on a 24-hour cycle--return to normal.
  • Breathing better air, including using an air purifier to freshen and clean indoor air, can alleviate symptoms of SAD. People should read the best air purifiers reviews to find a machine that fits their situation the best. 
  • Air purifiers cleanse the air inside of the dirt and contaminants that become trapped when houses are closed up all winter, but getting outside for fresh air regularly helps, too.
  • Eating better food, including getting enough vitamin D, a nutrient missing when people spend less time in the sun.
  • Getting more exercise, which helps SAD patients get beyond the lethargy and fatigue the malady causes.

Taking advantage of the research into SAD and following up with natural remedies can brighten winter and bring better health and well-being to anyone suffering from seasonal depression.


Author Bio: Especially drawn to human-interest and health-related stories, Mary Thomsen is adept at writing on just about any topic. She now writes for online blogs but continues as a community newspaper editor, reporter and owner after 20-plus years on that job.

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1 Response to Seasonal Affective Disorder | Ending Winter Depression

February 8, 2012 at 7:38 AM

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a terrible condition that has only been officially recognised in the last few years. Every year I count the days until Spring so we can get some decent light. Best advice I've ever received was to try to keep active. This can be very difficult when feeling low but it's a great way of boosting your happy levels!

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