Seasonal Depressive Disorder: What it is and how to prevent it

Seasonal Depressive Disorder: What it is and how to prevent it

Having a slump from time to time or feeling sad about an event that has happened in your life is normal. But if the suffering is persistent, you are sad most of the time, and this situation affects your daily life, you may suffer from depression.

There are different depressive disorders, such as Major Depression, Psychotic Depression or Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD). We will talk about the latter in today’s article.

Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD): what is it?

SAD is part of mood disorders, affecting our well-being, our social interaction, our appetite and sexual desire, and is characterized by occurring during a certain time of the year, usually during winter . It is estimated that this condition currently affects between 3% and 10% of the population in countries with sudden seasonal changes, such as the Nordic countries.

The relationship between climate and our state of mind

When we wake up one winter morning and look out the window and see a grey and rainy day, we usually feel that it is a “couch, blanket and movie day”. On the contrary, if we look out on a sunny day, we feel like going out and enjoying the sunny day.

This phenomenon has attracted the attention of many researchers, so many studies have been carried out in this line of research since the 1970s. According to research in the British Journal of Psychology , both sun exposure and warm temperatures promote positive thinking and decrease anxiety. In contrast, excess humidity in the environment causes fatigue and makes it difficult to concentrate.

In addition, rain and cold increase depression and suicidal thoughts.However, these climatic changes, which are characteristic of certain seasons of the year, do not affect everyone with the same intensity.

The Lack of Brightness Hypothesis

The term Seasonal Depressive Disorder was coined by Norman Rosenthal, professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown University (Washington, USA) who for 20 years researched SAD at the US National Institute of Mental Health.

According to his theory, patients suffering from this disorder experience depressive symptoms during the autumn and winter months because there is less sunlight, and they begin to improve with the arrival of spring. One of the reasons why this occurs is because of the lack of vitamin D .

Research conducted by the universities of Georgia, Pittsburgh (USA) and Queensland Technical University in Australia, which reviewed over 100 leading articles, concluded that there is a link between vitamin D and winter depression. Vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, both of which are neurotransmitters related to depression.

After Rosenthal’s study, luminotherapy (also called “phototherapy”) emerged, a treatment for SAD (and other disorders) that aims to modify the internal clock that regulates the body’s activity cycles, which resides in the brain and is activated by light stimulation.

Symptoms of Seasonal Depressive Disorder

Unlike typical depression, patients with SAD do not lose their appetite, weight and sleep, but rather have an exaggerated need for sleep and a tendency to gain weight .

The following are the symptoms of seasonal depressive disorder:

  • Hopelessness
  • Increased appetite with weight gain (simple carbohydrate craving)
  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Decreased libido
  • Less energy and ability to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in work and other activities
  • Slow movements
  • Social isolation and interpersonal difficulties
  • Sadness and irritability
  • Suicidal ideation

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) appears in the Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R), and in the International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10).

Studies confirm satisfactory diagnostic stability for SAD.

Their biological bases have also been studied and in them various factors seem to be involved, mainly genetic, neuroendocrine and electrophysiological

Spring and Summer Seasonal Depressive Disorder

Some experts also say that there is another variant of SAD that some people suffer from in the summer, and they have these symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Restlessness

Six tips for preventing ODS

In severe cases, ODS should be treated by a specialist. But in this article we propose some tips for you to prevent this disorder . These are some tips that can help you to achieve this:

1. Go outside

Going out is difficult for people with SAD, especially because of hyper-fatigue and daytime sleepiness. If you are lucky enough to have a job that forces you to leave your home, you will find it easier to overcome seasonal depression . If this is not the case, it is necessary that you do not stay at home, as many studies state that going out and getting fresh air increases serotonin levels, which can help decisively to fight Serotoninergic Syndrome.

If you think you have nowhere to go and no reason to leave the house, just go out and walk around in a quiet place. If it’s a lucky day, you can also benefit from the vitamin D provided by a sunny day.

2.Do sport

For several decades, studies have shown that exercise can improve our mental well-being regardless of age or physical condition . “Regular exercise is good for mood and self-esteem,” explains Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, chemicals that produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Combining cardiovascular work with anaerobic resistance work, such as working with weights, provides benefits for physical and mental health. It can also make us feel better by making us look better.

To learn more about the psychological benefits of physical activity, we invite you to read our article:

“The 10 psychological benefits of physical exercise”

3.Surround yourself with family and friends

Relying on your close friends and family, that is, on people you can trust and who will listen to you, will benefit you, as they will care about you, and s u sole presence acts as a protective factor against depression and against the irrational thoughts characteristic of this pathology.

Plus, if your friends are fun, they’ll show you a good time and transport you to a positive and enjoyable mood.

4.Set goals and objectives for this winter

Setting goals and having objectives has a positive effect on motivation and improves well-being, as long as they are realistic.

But not only will long-term goals have this effect, but short-term goals are also necessary to stay motivated during the process. In fact, on many occasions we set goals without taking into account that we have to overcome, previously, smaller goals . This aspect, which seems so obvious, can be overlooked and make us feel worse. Therefore, you must have the account.

5.Eat healthy

Healthy and balanced eating improves mental health and well-being . Diet will not cure depression, but it can help us feel better, as it has an impact on our general health and therefore on our mental health. A study carried out at the Clínica Universidad de Navarra, has indicated that the diet can protect against depression and reduce its risk by 40 and 50% .

The study was conducted by Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, who argues that this type of diet provides folate and B vitamins that are essential in the metabolic pathways for methionine, homocysteine and for s-adenosyl methionine (SAMe). The latter assists in the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters that affect mood, such as dopamine and serotonin.

In addition, other studies claim that tryptophan-rich foods help prevent depression . On the other hand, polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega-3) and monounsaturated fatty acids (from olive oil, some nuts, etc.) influence the structure of the nerve cell membranes and improve the functioning of serotonin.

Finally, multivitamins and vitamin D supplements should also be part of the diet to prevent SAD, and refined foods and foods containing trans fats (such as baked goods) should be avoided, as they affect body weight gain, increase the risk of obesity, and make individuals more unhappy.

6.Practice Mindfulness

The lifestyle of Western societies can lead many people to suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, etc. Mindfulness helps us to get to know ourselves, to investigate within ourselves and to show ourselves as we are . With its practice, self-awareness, self-knowledge and emotional intelligence are improved. It also reduces stress, anxiety and, among other psychological benefits, improves self-esteem.

But more than a set of techniques for being in the present moment, it is an attitude to life, a style of coping that builds on personal strengths. The practice of mindfulness improves awareness and calmness, which helps to self-regulate behavior, and creates an environment conducive to viewing life positively, which can be really helpful in preventing Seasonal Depressive Disorder.

To learn more about Mindfulness we invite you to read this article:

“Mindfulness: 8 benefits of full care”

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