Winter is coming. This might sound very familiar to all you die-hard fans of Game of Thrones. But sorry to disappoint, we are not going to talk about the American fantasy drama TV series. What we are going to talk about is SAD or seasonal affective disorder.
So, are you feeling the winter blues, or having trouble concentrating on your work or feeling an intense desire to be alone? Well, then just do not blame it on the weather. It could be more than the winter blues and you might need help from medical professionals as you might be suffering from SAD. Generally, this disorder starts in winter and disappears in spring or early summer.
However, when it occurs in the months of summer and spring one needs to be very careful, because symptoms of SAD and Bipolar affective disorder or BAD are very similar and people often confuse the two.
“And so, while diagnosing one must always look at it longitudinally as BAD is associated with recurrent episodes of depression and mania,” said Dr Sangeeta Datta who is a consultant Neuro-psychologist and has her Neuropsychiatric clinic in the city of Guwahati itself.
As the days are starting to get shorter, sun playing hide and seek, days beginning to feel more dull and gloomy, people tend to get afflicted by SAD. Now, it is okay to feel sad or low and down once a while. But if it occurs continuously and it makes you feel demotivated to do the work that you normally enjoy doing, then it might be a cause of concern.
“The symptoms can range from mood changes, sleep issues, weight loss, appetite issues, and irritability, loss of attention and concentration and delving into pessimistic thoughts,” said Dr Datta. Ignoring your depressed mood and thinking that its just the winter blues might be a grave mistake as mood swings are just one manifestation of SAD.
The specific cause for seasonal affective disorder is yet to be ascertained. Some scientists believe SAD is triggered due to hormonal changes. Others attribute it to less sunlight in winters that might disrupt the normal circadian rhythm. Also, less sunlight causes the brain to produce lesser amount of serotonin. Serotonin is also the chemical that links brain pathways and it regulates the mood. And when these do not function normally, it results in a person feeling depressed.
According to Dr Datta, there is yet another cause for SAD. Melatonin which is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle of a human being also has a part to play.
Anindita Nath, a senior consultant at ABACUS Management, stated that the cause might be psychological as well. “Winters are often gloomy and this results in people shutting themselves indoors and reflecting on themselves. Now self-reflection can occur in two ways, it can be in a good way or it can be in a bad way. And when one self reflects on the bad things longer it results in SAD,” she said.
Now as stated earlier, it is very difficult to pin down the exact causes. However, there are ways to battle SAD and here are few ideas which will help you get started and going.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is quite effective for SAD as it focuses on identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. “This can be done by reading positive books and even hanging out with positive company,” said Dr Datta.
Light therapy is a go-to treatment for SAD since the 1980s. The main idea behind this kind of therapy is to replace the amount of diminished sunshine during the fall and winter months. Exposure to artificial lights in the form of light-boxes is a good treatment for SAD.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is also another way to combat SAD. Regular exercises and doing physically taxing work release endorphins in the human body which is an anti-depressant on its own accord.
Nutritious food like banana, potato, almonds, milk helps combat SAD. A decrease in the amount of fatty and carbohydrate foods and an increase in a protein-rich diet can also help reduce the occurrence of SAD. Even relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation help a lot.
But these are measures just for prevention of SAD. Once one suffers from SAD and has progressed to the point that it leads to having fatal thoughts, it is best to seek out professional help from certified doctors.