What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? How the seasons can impact your mood and well-being

With the warm and sunny late-summer weather, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be the last thing on your mind.

Most people associate SAD, a disorder marked by symptoms like anxiety, with the darker days of winter. However, changing seasons can leave you feeling out of sorts at any time of the year.

Whether summer’s heat leaves you feeling irritable or the short days of winter leave you feeling depressed, there are steps you can take to turn your mood around.

What causes seasonal affective disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers aren’t sure what specifically causes SAD, but there are a few factors that may have significant influence:

  • Your body’s circadian rhythm, or “internal clock”. Changes in daylight (whether shorter days in winter or more daylight hours during the summer months) can impact your body’s natural rhythm. This disrupts your sleep, which can potentially trigger other effects.
  • Serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that works in your body to help regulate things like your mood, energy and appetite; reduced levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.
  • Melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that is strongly connected to your body’s sleep cycle; light causes production to cut back, while dark increases production of the hormone.

The combination of these changes impacts many people one way or another, and contributes to a number of different symptoms.

Recognizing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

Occasional changes in mood are normal. When you’re feeling out of sorts for a couple of weeks or more, however, it may be time to ask for help. Another indicator is if you experience the same symptoms two years in a row.

Seasonal affective disorder impacts mood, behaviour and appetite, but the actual symptoms between the summer and winter variations of the disorder vary. In fact, they’re almost reversed:

  • Sleep. In winter, SAD can lead to oversleeping. During the summer, however, one of the key symptoms of SAD is insomnia (problems falling or staying asleep).
  • Appetite. People affected by SAD during the winter may eat more, especially foods that are higher in carbohydrates. Often paired with a loss of energy, this increased appetite can contribute to weight gain. In contrast, however, symptoms of the summer variant of SAD include reduced appetite and weight loss.
  • Mood. The symptoms of SAD in winter include feelings of depression and hopelessness. People affected by SAD in summer may feel increasingly irritable, or they may notice an increase in sex drive.

What you can do to feel better

If the changing seasons do impact your mood and wellbeing, there are natural remedies you can try, including nutritional supplements and light therapy.

You should also talk about treatment options with a professional. Some types of treatment are very simple, like making sure you eat a proper diet. However, left untreated, the symptoms of SAD can become worse. It’s important for you to know what your options are.

For more information about seasonal affective disorder, please contact us today at 613-967-0545 or connect with us on Twitter (@StevensonWaplak).