With winter rapidly approaching, the number of available daylight hours are growing fewer. While many regard this as a fixture of each year having little effect on daily life, others find this is a phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to WebMd.com, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression brought on by the change in exposure to sunlight caused by the time shift in the winter months. It occurs when there are increased levels of melatonin, a hormone that has been linked to fatigue and depression, as well as a shift in the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which guides our body’s processes throughout the day.
Symptoms include depression, fatigue, lack of interest in once-appealing activities, social anxiety or withdrawal from social activities, an increase in cravings for food high in carbohydrates and weight gain.
While these symptoms are common, not all symptoms may be present. In some cases, the symptoms may be to the opposite extreme, such as weight loss versus weight gain.
While most people affected by SAD only experience symptoms during the colder winter months, those more acutely affected might experience symptoms during long stretches of cloudy weather or when working in an office with few windows and little natural light.
In a few cases, the symptoms may be more extreme in the summer months, likely due to the high heat and humidity levels. The symptoms typically are opposite of winter SAD, often including insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss and severe anxiety.
Increasing someone’s exposure to sunlight during the winter months, either by taking long walks or rearranging someone’s living space to allow for exposure to a window can improve or eradicate symptoms of SAD.
But, in severe cases, phototherapy may be necessary. This involves exposure to bright light from a special fluorescent bulb for 30 to 90 minutes every day. Psychotherapy counseling has been found to be successful.
If the depression should become severe, one should seek professional help. The counseling services on campus at Kennard-Washington Hall are a good place to start. In case of a mental health emergency, the counseling services can be reached at 601.606.HELP(4357).