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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a disorder characterized by feelings of depression during the same time every year. This disorder is also commonly referred to as seasonal depression. For many people, this occurs during the winter months. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes SAD. However, we know there are a variety of factors that can contribute to it. Once you know the causes of SAD you are able to figure out the prevention & treatment techniques that work best for you.


One of the causes of SAD is believed to be lack of sunlight. During the winter months the days are much shorter and even when there is sun, most of us are inside at jobs or school. Scientists believe that this lack of sun messes up our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are what keep our bodies regulated. It works as our bodies alarm and has a large say in our sleep patterns. A poor sleep pattern can cause all kinds of fluctuation in mood leading to SAD. Another believed cause is a lack of serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone that makes us happy, so it would make sense to feel feelings of depression in its absence. Exposure to sunlight which produces vitamin D, also increases production of serotonin. In the summer, we are exposed to high levels of sunlight so our serotonin can be in high amounts. Then going into the winter months there is almost no sun exposure. As a result, moods can become dysregulated because of the fluctuation of endorphins in the brain. Serotonin isn't the only hormone affected by the seasons changing. Production of the hormone melatonin is believed to be disrupted by the seasonal transitions. Melatonin helps control your sleep cycle and when this is disrupted so is your mood. There are many causes of SAD and possible contributors. When thinking of prevention and treatment methods there are some things you can do!


One of the most suggested prevention methods is to try light therapy, since a leading cause of this disorder is the lack of sunlight. This involves sitting in direct light for 30 minutes every morning. The light needs to be fluorescent in order to accurately mimic sunlight. You should be 12-18 inches away and the fluorescent light must be white. In order to get the most from light therapy your eyes need to be open. A similar prevention method is obtaining a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is essentially an alarm clock that gradually exposes you to light. These are effective in the way that they promote a more natural wake up time, helping you maintain your circadian rhythm and boosting your energy. Prioritizing physical activity is also believed to be an effective method in combating seasonal depression. SAD is believed to be because of a lack of endorphins, and exercise naturally produces many endorphins. 150 minutes of physical activity per week is suggested when trying to prevent SAD. However, any physical activity is better than none at all! Staying connected can also be a very effective way to combat seasonal depression. Surrounding yourself with friends and family is associated with good mental health and overall mood. Since SAD is associated with feelings of loneliness, what better way to prevent this disorder by making sure you are rarely lonely! These are just a few ways to prevent seasonal affective disorder but they are all believed to be affective and quite frankly are pretty easy!


If you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, that's okay! However, there are ways to minimize its severity. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or just talk therapy is believed to be very effective in treating seasonal affective disorder. These benefits can be longer lasting because it really gets to the root of the disorder. Another effective treatment is talking to your primary physician about being prescribed antidepressants. Antidepressants increase the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline. It's okay if your serotonin is store bought! The most important thing is that you are maintaining good mental health. These are just a few treatments for SAD. If you or someone you know really struggles with seasonal affective disorder, professional help should be sought out. Disorders affect every day life and there are so many mental health professionals out there that can give you the help you need.

This fall & winter season you don't have to "stick it out" and spend months on end struggling! Seasonal affective disorder is REAL. So are preventative and treatment methods. Make mental health your top priority and get the help you need.

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