Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects many people, especially women, during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight. For most with SAD, the depression generally lifts during spring and summer. More importantly, SAD is treatable with a variety of methods, including light therapy, psychotherapy, or medication.
A more recent study has found a connection between this type of depression and the pineal gland. The pineal gland is located in the middle of the brain. It responds to darkness by secreting melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate a person’s sleep and wake cycles. This hormone helps to reset your inner clock and manage your body’s daily rhythms.
The reduced daylight that comes during the winter season in the northeast seems to affect when your pineal gland releases melatonin. The time period between when your body releases melatonin can become longer or shorter than it is during the spring and summer months. As a result, your body’s rhythms become upset and misaligned. These daily rhythm mismatches may be a cause of SAD. For some, melatonin supplements at the right time of day have offered relief from the symptoms of SAD.
For others, antidepressants, light therapy, speaking with a counselor, or a combination of two or more of these treatments successfully relieves symptoms. Light therapy consists of regularly exposing yourself to a light source that emits wavelengths of light similar to that produced by the sun. The light is administered regularly for a certain amount of time and, in some cases, at a specific time of day. Light therapy also helps to reset your body’s essential rhythms, including your wake/sleep cycle.
People with SAD experience emotional and physical symptoms that may include: feeling sad, anxious or empty for most of the day, for more than two weeks; having no interest in activities or hobbies used to be enjoyable; feeling more irritable and getting frustrated more easily; feeling guilty, worthless, helpless, or overwhelmed often; having no energy most of the time; eating or sleeping more or less than usual; having trouble concentrating or making decisions; or having thought of suicide or hurting others.
If you are experiencing three or more of these symptoms or if your sad mood is interfering with your daily activities, you could be suffering from SAD or depression. Make an appointment to see your health care provider and share your symptoms. SAD and depression are illnesses just like the flu or a sore throat. Getting help can make a big difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally. You’ll experience a better sense of well-being, no matter what the season.