ADDICTION TREATMENT CENTER

Seasons, Changes, and Mental Health Stages

By:
theohanahawaii
May 4, 2022

Have you ever felt that you’re more productive on a warm summer day than on a dreary fall day? Do you begin feeling sluggish or less inclined to do things that you typically find pleasurable after daylight savings time begins? Maybe you just generally feel more down in the dumps when your environment is darker and colder. Millions of people across the world experience this phenomenon. It can be hard to understand it entirely, but it’s amazing how much nature, the environment, and the different seasons can alter our moods.

Fortunately, there’s a name for what you’re experiencing — seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD has become quite common in recent years, and for those suffering from other mental disorders, the changing seasons can affect your mood more than you may initially realize. Are you interested in learning more about SAD and how the changing seasons affect your mental health? If so, this article is for you. 

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It's normal for people to experience occasional periods of sadness. However, when these periods occur more frequently or lead you to feel other negative feelings, it may be time to ask for help. Some may only experience this when the seasons change. Most frequently, people become slightly more depressed when the days get shorter. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SAD symptoms begin “in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer.” Unfortunately, SAD can worsen symptoms of other mental disorders. Being able to recognize the signs can help you differentiate between symptoms of mental illness and the symptoms of SAD.

SAD is a form of depression distinguished by the “recurrent seasonal pattern,” according to the NIMH. This pattern typically lasts four to five months annually. There are two different patterns of SAD: winter and summer. Common signs of SAD in general include:

  • Increased feelings of sadness and depression

  • A loss of interest in pleasurable activities 

  • Feeling unusually slow or sluggish 

  • Difficulty concentrating 

  • Worsening symptoms of co-occurring disorders

While winter-pattern SAD is common, many also suffer from summer-pattern SAD, and symptoms differ depending on the type. Common signs of winter-pattern SAD, according to the NIMH, include:

  • Oversleeping 

  • Overeating and craving carbs 

  • Weight gain 

  • Social withdrawal

Conversely, symptoms of summer-pattern SAD include:

  • Insomnia 

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss

  • Feeling restless and anxious 

  • Episodes of intense agitation or violence

How Does SAD Affect Other Mental Disorders?

Although millions of Americans suffer from SAD, many don’t even realize it. It is, unfortunately, more common among individuals who already suffer from other mental disorders. People with illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or attention-deficit disorder (ADD) are at an increased risk of suffering from SAD. It can also be hereditary, especially when mental illness runs in families.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the direct cause of SAD. Some research has linked the lack of sunlight and short days to a chemical change in the brain. For example, melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. The body produces more melatonin in the dark. This means that shorter days and longer nights will cause more melatonin production, making you feel more exhausted. This over-exhaustion can be a leading cause of increased levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. If you or someone you love is in treatment for mental illness, feel free to bring up concerns about SAD. Maintaining mental health means coping with all symptoms, including symptoms of SAD.

Effective Ways to Cope With SAD

Some may benefit from seeking intense professional treatment for SAD. Others may feel comfortable handling the symptoms as they emerge from season to season. Regardless, there are many effective ways to treat SAD and learn to cope with it long-term. The NIMH indicates four main categories available for treating SAD. These include:  

  • Light therapy: This method exposes clients to light in 30- to 45-minute sessions to make up for the lack of exposure to sunlight between fall and spring. 

  • Psychotherapy: Also referred to as “talk therapy,” this method frequently utilizes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Clients work to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones to help them cope with their SAD symptoms. 

  • Medications: Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help regulate one's serotonin levels. Since SAD is a type of depression, this type of medication can help with the symptoms and enhance a client's mood. 

  • Vitamin D: A vitamin D deficiency significantly increases SAD symptoms. Vitamin D supplements may help treat your SAD while also having other benefits for your general health.  

If you or someone you love suffers from SAD, it's important to understand that it can affect co-occurring mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and addiction. If symptoms are severe enough to impact your daily life, consider seeking treatment immediately. At The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center, we understand the importance of nature and how it affects us. Don’t underestimate these effects, especially if you are suffering from SAD. Take the necessary steps to maintain your mental health today.

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