The hard winter months can be difficult for many people. Cold or inclement weather can limit the activities they enjoy, and the long dark days can leave people feeling miserable. There are some individuals who are hit particularly hard during this season. This is because they suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Such individuals can experience unpleasant symptoms in response to the changing seasons. Some who are recovering from an addiction may also have to deal with SAD. It is vital that they learn to manage these symptoms, as it might be detrimental to their sobriety.
SAD is a type of depressive disorder triggered by the changing seasons. It is possible to experience such symptoms during any period of seasonal change. The majority of people find that the onset of winter that is the usual trigger. Some of the possible causes for seasonal affective disorder include:
* Lack of sunlight may lead to a drop in serotonin levels, an important neurotransmitter that is important for managing mood.
* Melatonin levels can also be affected by seasonal changes. This compound is found in the body and affects sleep patterns as well as mood.
* The lengthening and shortening of days can affect people’s biological clock, or circadian rhythm. This can lead to problems with sleeping, which in turn triggers depressive symptoms.
* There may be a genetic predisposition towards developing SAD. It has also been noted that women tend to be more susceptible to it than men.
The symptoms of SAD can include:
* A noticeable drop in energy levels
* Weight gain, which is often due to an increased desire to eat foods high in carbohydrates
* Difficulty with concentration
* Feelings of anxiety
* A desire to seek isolation from other people
* Loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable
* Reluctance to get out of bed in the morning
* Inability to sleep (summer onset SAD)
* Increased libido (summer onset SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder can be dangerous for people in recovery. This is particularly true when the individual has no idea what is causing the discomfort. If people feel that the joy has gone out of their sobriety, then they may begin to miss their addiction. They can start romancing the drink or drug. The symptoms of SAD will also get in the way of the individual’s ability to build a new life away from alcohol and drugs. Once the problem is identified, it is almost always possible to bring it under control. It is important to consider that once people experience these symptoms, medical advice should be sought right away.
It has been suggested that up to 20% of people with SAD will go on to develop bipolar disorder. Those who are already diagnosed with bipolar disorder tend to be highly affected by seasonal changes. The change into spring can trigger a manic episode, while the start of winter can mean deep depression. It is usual to distinguish these symptoms experienced by individuals with bipolar disorder by referring to their condition as seasonal bipolar disorder. Treatment for this condition tends is similar to that given for SAD.
There are a number of things that can be done to help people deal with SAD:
* If people suspect that they are experiencing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, they need to speak to their doctor. This can be a debilitating condition, so the sooner help is sought, the better it will be for them.
* Light therapy is said to be highly effective at treating seasonal affective disorder. This involves using a special machine that is able to produce a light similar to natural light. People may need to use light therapy for up to two hours a day depending on their symptoms.
* There is growing interest in using cognitive behavioral therapy to treat SAD. This works by helping the individual learn to change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is believed to be particularly effective when combined with light therapy.
* Spending more time outside is recommended. This gives people some exposure to natural sunlight, even if it is cloudy outside. It is suggested that getting outdoors soon after waking up is the most effective approach.
* Regular exercise is good for all types of depression including SAD. If people exercise outside, then this will be even better for them.
* Sitting in a dark room all day is likely going to exacerbate the symptoms of SAD. The solution to this is to brighten the room up as much as possible, preferably with plenty of natural light.
* In many cases, it will be recommended that the individual take antidepressant medication. People will usually be expected to take this medication at the time of year when they would normally experience the symptoms of SAD. Such drugs can be highly effective, but experimentation may be required before for the physician to determine which drug to prescribe. This is because people differ in how they react to such medications.
* There are a number of natural supplements that are said to reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorders, such as St John’s Wort, omega-3 fatty acids and melatonin.
* Some suggest that meditation can help people manage SAD. Practices such as yoga and Tai Chi might also be beneficial.
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