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I have this theory that whichever season you were born in affects how you feel about the opposite season. I was born during spring, and I am not fond of getting too hot or too cold. Apart from the rhinitis, sinusitis and hay fever that come with spring, I actually like it! There are no heat waves that cause my body to overheat (you can only undress that much at the office before it becomes offensive) and no cold fronts to make me feel as uncomfortable as that Oros character on TV.

Fortunately for us living inland, sunshine during winter is a given seeing that our rainy season is mostly during summer. We might experience some overcast days during winter, but mostly the days are sunny. The same cannot be said about the Western Cape area that falls under the winter rainfall region. Having winter and rain might cause you to feel gloomy and moody, although some people love the idea of dark, rainy days (which has a name by the way! Such people are called pluviophiles).

Unfortunately, not all of us cope with seasonal changes and some can truly battle getting through them. They might even fall into depression because of changes in the seasons and one of these types of depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. If you are like most people diagnosed with SAD, your symptoms start in the autumn and continue into the winter months, making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

SAD is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on seasons. Symptoms that form part of SAD includes:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes with appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes referred to as winter depression, may include:

  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Issues getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Appetite changes – craving food high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

Symptoms specific to summer-onset SAD, sometimes referred to as summer depression, may include:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety

Even though it’s normal to have some days when you feel down, it can become quite concerning if you feel down for days at a time and just can’t seem to become motivated to do activities you usually enjoy. If your sleep patterns and appetite change or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, it might be time to see a general practitioner.

Though the specific reasons for SAD remains unknown, some of the following factors may come into play:

Serotonin levels: A drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Places low in sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
Melatonin levels: The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

The following factors may increase your risk of developing SAD:

Being female: SAD is diagnosed in more women than in men, but men may experience the symptoms more severely
Age: Younger people have a higher risk of winter SAD, and SAD is less likely to occur in older adults.
Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder: Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you were diagnosed with either of these conditions.
Living far from the equator: SAD appears to be more common in people living far north or south of the equator due to decreased sunlight during winter and longer days during summer months.

In addition to seeking help from your general practitioner, some lifestyle changes can be used to improve symptoms and lift your mood. Try going outside more often and getting plenty of sunlight, exercising, avoiding alcohol and drugs and getting plenty of sleep.

Planning a healthier lifestyle is never a bad idea. Don’t give up if your symptoms do not improve right away. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows you want to better yourself. Consider how you can start managing SAD today and live a healthier life in every season.

Stay stress-free,

Author’s note:

All information in this blog was researched for this blog, and is not intended for self-diagnosis or to be used as medical advice. All medical questions should be directed to a healthcare professional such as a doctor or pharmacist.

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