If you’re female, young, have a family history of depression, and live where winter daylight hours are short, you may be more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
SAD is a type of depression that typically starts in late fall and early winter, and goes away in the spring. Symptoms include having low energy, sleeping excessively, overeating, gaining weight, craving carbohydrates, and withdrawing socially.
The NIH explains that while the causes of SAD are unknown, research has found biological links including an insufficiency of Vitamin D, and an overproduction of melatonin which regulates sleep. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may also interfere with a person’s serotonin production, which affects mood.
Treatment methods include medication, light therapy, psychotherapy, and Vitamin D supplementation. “Since seasonal depression has a predictable pattern of recurrence, preventative measures may help to reduce symptoms. Begin light therapy before the onset of symptoms, exercise more, increase the amount of light at home, meditate, and use other stress management techniques. Try spending more time outside, and visit climates that have more sun,” suggests Mental Health America.
Experts add that following a healthy diet and regular exercise program can boost mood and reduce the rate of SAD.
Scandinavian countries, where sunlight can be scarce, have light-therapy clinics, giant rotating sunlight mirrors, and positive thinking reminders to overcome SAD, reports The Atlantic. In southern Sweden in January, the sun rises after 8:30 a.m. and sets before 4 p.m. It’s estimated that 8% of Sweden’s population suffers from SAD. MedlinePlus reports that SAD’s prevalence in the U.S. ranges from 1.4% in Florida, to 9.9% in Alaska.
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