Seasonal Affective Disorder
Give the Gift of Wellness: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Winter is a time for merriment, family gatherings, and bundling up to weather the elements. But it can also be a period of profound depression for those affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Sometimes reductively referred to as the “winter blues”, SAD is so much more than just a fleeting feeling brought on by inclement climate conditions; it’s a recurring condition that must be studied, addressed, and confronted.

If you are battling any form of depression, it matters to us. But before we can assess the right course of action, let’s define this particular manifestation of the phenomenon…

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

During the winter months, we experience less sunlight than during the other seasons. Those UV rays, when received in moderation, are actually healthy; our bodies process sunlight and convert it into Vitamin D.

This vitamin deficiency is just one of the possible causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Those afflicted by the condition tend to produce an overabundance of melatonin as the days grow shorter. The ensuing darkness disrupts your sleeping habits, thus exacerbating the already prevalent feelings of fatigue and depression.

In addition to increased levels of melatonin, SAD sufferers also test five percent higher for serotonin transporter proteins during the winter. This buildup actually blocks the flow of serotonin back to the synapses of the brain, where they are needed to properly process the mind’s optimal functionality. This leaves the brain vulnerable to negative thoughts and cognitive atrophy.

The Statistics Behind the Sadness

If you experience an unnatural level of sadness during the holidays, it might not be situational but rather seasonal… and you’re not alone. An estimated 10 million Americans succumb to SAD every year, and up to 20 percent of our nation’s populace have reported mild episodes of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So, who is most likely to be diagnosed with SAD? It varies greatly, but heredity may be an indicator. 55 percent of patients diagnosed with the disorder report having relatives with similar depression issues and 34 percent of them come from families in which alcoholism and/or substance abuse plays a factor.

SAD affects women at a rate that is four times higher than that of their male counterparts. The typical age of onset is between 18 and 30, but a change of environment can escalate the progression of Seasonal Affective Disorder for people of any age.

The Telltale Signs of SAD

While our lifestyles often slow down during the colder half of the year, it’s important to distinguish between the typical winter doldrums and something more pronounced. The symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder are numerous, but the following bullet points may offer some insight into the peculiarities of SAD:

  • Fatigue – It’s natural to get run down during the holidays. Shopping, travel, and shorter days affect us all. But if you can’t manage to juggle the same workload and stress levels that you wrangle during the summer, then Seasonal Affective Disorder might be the culprit.
  • Disorientation – Those stricken by SAD often report a lack of concentration, focus, and ability to complete daily tasks. This is because they are disproportionately affected by the depletion of daylight during the wintertime.
  • Weight Fluctuations – Our mental health often dovetails with our metabolism. When our psychological status is depressed, it has ramifications on our appetite, exercise routine, and diet. This is why SAD patients often experience weight gain.
  • Sleep Disruption – All of the symptoms above have ripple effects on our ability to achieve a good night’s sleep. When we eat late at night, it’s harder to get REM relaxation. Also, fatigue leads to sluggishness, which depresses not only your amount of physical activity but also your demeanor. If you lead a lackadaisical lifestyle, you fail to burn the calories you take in over the course of the day (especially if your appetite is increased due to SAD). The resulting restlessness triggers insomnia, creating a snowball effect.

Help Is Just a Click Away

While the severity of SAD ranges immensely, it should never be taken lightly. Up to 6% of those afflicted require hospitalization for the worst symptoms of the condition. That’s why it’s important to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder before it becomes a major medical issue.

The aforementioned accumulation of serotonin transporter proteins can have disastrous and detrimental effects on your brain’s ability to do its job. By stimulating the flow of neurotransmitters, we can activate proper cerebral health and functionality.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive procedure that promotes synaptic wellbeing and optimal brain chemistry. A coil is affixed to your head that conducts a flow of electricity through your scalp, which stimulates your brain’s natural ability to process the chemicals within its neurological structures.

No anesthesia is required, no injections or incisions are made, and no hospitalization is necessary. Your TMS professional will administer treatments over the course of six to eight weeks to help counteract the damaging symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or any other depressive condition for which you are seeking relief.

Our team has achieved wondrous success in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of mood disorders. If you or a loved one is suffering from SAD, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Together, we can make this holiday season a truly magical time, free from depression and the chill of winter blues.

Article By: Chris Howard
Director of Community Outreach & Education Chris Howard has been working in the mental health field since 2010 after seeing the long-term effects of mental illness within his own family. He is a graduate of UCLA where he received his B.A. in Psychology. Having worked closely with those struggling with addiction, Chris considers the concept of community to be an essential part of treatment and advocates for wellness approaches that integrate both leading conventional therapies, as well as holistic practices like yoga and meditation.