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Seasonal affective disorder. How to recognize it and what to do

According to various data, about 5-7% of population suffers from various types of depression, and that number is steadily increasing every year.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of endogenous depression. Endogenous refers to disorders that are not related to external stressors or causes. Scientists can not yet name the exact cause of their occurrence, but a large role is assigned to heredity and genetic breakdowns.

The causes of development

There are several theories of this pathology:

  1. The Chronobiological theory, according to which there is a molecular and biochemical violation of circadian rhythms (“internal clock” of man). It is believed that a decrease in the duration of daylight hours in the fall and winter and the lack of sunlight for the human body is not the least of these factors.
  2. The Monoamine theory states that the decrease in production of brain biologically active substances (neurotransmitters): serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, during the fall and winter period is the basis of seasonal depressions.
  3. The stress-diathesis theory believes that there is a predisposition of the body (diathesis) to this disease, which is triggered by external adverse factors.
  4. The Genetic theory. – Seasonal affective disorder can be caused by an abnormality of certain genes in the 11th chromosome as well as by a genetic predisposition (heredity).

Symptoms and Signs

Two basic types of signs of seasonal depression can be distinguished:

  1. The first type is characterized by sleepiness, a pronounced appetite, craving for flour and sweets, an increase in body weight, meteosensitivity.
  2. The second type, on the contrary, is characterized by a decrease in sensitivity (anesthesia) to everything that occurs – a decrease in the need for sleep, lack of appetite, suppression of the body’s reactions to any external influences and stimuli.

The first type of affective disorders has a more favorable character, with shorter periods of depression (up to four months) and are easier to treat.

The second type has a much more difficult form. It is characterized by long episodes of “flare-ups” at which the period of depression can last up to 6-9 months or more. In the absence of adequate treatment, the occurrence of the so-called double depression is possible. In such cases, seasonality is not observed and one or more long periods of depression take place one after another. In order to avoid such conditions, it is important to seek help from a specialist in time.

If we look at the specific signs of seasonal affective disorder, its symptoms are as follows:

  • depressed mood, lack of positive reactions at certain times of the year – fall, winter or spring;
  • symptoms persist for two weeks or more;
  • decreased ability to concentrate, remember, absent-mindedness;
  • feeling unwell in the morning hours and feeling better in the evening;
  • rapid fatigue, decreased general tone, lack of energy, decreased motor activity.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder coincide with symptoms of severe somatic diseases or signs of serious mental disorders. Timely differential diagnosis by a qualified specialist will allow the identification of the causes of the illness and prompt initiation of therapy.

How the Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Treated

At the center of the seasonal depression process is a metabolic disorder in the brain tissue, as well as a disturbance of human circadian rhythms due to the lack of sunlight. Therefore, the main methods of treatment of this pathology are pharmacotherapy and light therapy.

Drug therapy consists of the prescription of antidepressants.

Modern antidepressants have good tolerability, are safer than previous generations of drugs, but at the same time, they are comparable with them in effectiveness.

Antidepressants work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, SSRIs increase levels of serotonin, which regulates mood.

Light therapy is a course of sessions of bright contrasting light directed into the patient’s eyes. The bright light affects the retina and causes a reflex activation of serotonin production.

Psychotherapy is an adjunctive component of complex treatment and is applied at all stages of this pathology. This method helps the patient change his/her attitude towards the disease, facilitating the subjective experience of symptoms and increasing the motivation for treatment.

A balanced diet, vitamin therapy, moderate physical activity and an active lifestyle play an important role in treatment.

Seasonal affective disorder is successfully treated. Self-treatment does not guarantee stable and long-lasting results. Qualified specialists who have positive experience in the therapy of this disease will promptly make a differential diagnosis, clarify the diagnosis and prescribe adequate treatment.

Prevention and Recommendations

The following recommendations can be used as prevention of seasonal affective disorder:

  • Regular physical activity. Physical activity is one of the scientifically proven ways to improve mood and cope with any form of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. Sports promote the release of endorphins, substances that rid a person of sadness. Studies show that even 10 minutes on a treadmill or 30 minutes of walking has a significant effect. And, when it comes to the benefits of exercise to combat seasonal affective disorder, consistency and regularity of physical activity is much more important than its duration or intensity. You can start with easy walks, exercise, yoga, dancing.
  • Observe sleeping hygiene. Go to bed at approximately the same time, avoid prolonged exposure to the television screen or the use of electronic devices. You should avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy foods before going to bed. You can drink herbal tea and read a good book.
  • Get out in the sun more often. Go for walks, even if it is cold outside, but sunny. Keep the blinds and shades of your home open to let in more sunshine.
  • Smile more often and talk to positive people. Adults tend to be serious and full of worries. However, we should not forget that laughter has incredible health benefits. It improves the immune and hormonal systems, improves mood, makes people happier. Viewing your favorite comedy, playing with children or pets, meeting with friends, visiting a comedy show – all this has a beneficial effect on a person’s mood and energy.
  • Do not neglect taking vitamin and mineral complexes during the fall and winter. Studies have found a link between fatty acids (alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, docosahexaenoic) and depression, and found that omega-3 supplements reduce the risk of depression.
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