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

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

May 19, 2024

Having a slump once in a while or feeling sad about an event that happened in 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 depression.

There are different depressive disorders, such as Major Depression, Psychotic Depression or Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD). About this last one we will talk about in today's article.

Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD): what is it?

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


The relationship between climate and our state of mind

When we wake up one winter morning and look out the window we see a gray and rainy day, we generally feel that this is a "day of sofa, blanket and peli". On the contrary, if we see a sunny day when we look out, we want to go out and enjoy the sunny day.

This phenomenon has attracted the attention of many researchers, so many studies have been conducted in this line of research since the 70s. According to an investigation of the British Journal of Psychology, both sun exposure and warm temperatures they favor positive thoughts and reduce anxiety. In contrast, excess moisture in the environment causes fatigue and difficult concentration.


In addition, rain and cold increase depression and suicidal desires. However, these climatic changes that are characteristic of certain seasons of the year do not affect the whole world with the same intensity.

The hypothesis of the lack of luminosity

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

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 happens is because of the lack of vitamin D .

A research project conducted by the universities of Georgia, Pittsburgh (United States) and the Technical University of Queensland in Australia, which reviewed more than 100 leading articles, concluded that there is a relationship between vitamin D and winter depression. Vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, both neurotransmitters are related to depression.


After his study of Rosenthal, luminoterapia (also called "fototerapia"), a treatment for the SAD (and other disorders) that tries to modify the internal clock that regulates the cycles of activity of the organism, that resides in the brain and activates, arose by the light stimulus.

Symptoms of Seasonal Depressive Disorder

Unlike typical depression, patients with SAD do not lose appetite, weight and sleep, but rather they have an exaggerated need to sleep and a tendency to get fat , therefore, regarding this last point, SAD causes them to eat compulsively, especially foods with a high caloric intake. Symptoms usually intensify slowly in the late fall and in the winter months.

The following are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depressive Disorder:

  • Despair
  • Increased appetite with weight gain (craving for simple carbohydrates)
  • 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

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

There are studies that confirm a satisfactory diagnostic stability for SAD.

They have also studied their biological bases and in them Several factors seem to be involved, mainly genetic, neuroendocrine and electrophysiological

Seasonal Depressive Disorder in spring and summer

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

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weightloss
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Restlessness

Six tips to prevent SAD

In severe cases, the SAD must be treated by a specialist. But in this article we propose you some tips so you can prevent this disorder . Here are some tips that can help you to achieve it:

1. Go outside

Going out is difficult for people with SAD, especially hyperfatigue and drowsiness during the day. If luckily you have a job that forces you to leave home, you'll have 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 claim that going out and giving you air increases serotonin levels, which can help decisively to combat Serotonin Syndrome.

If you think you have nowhere to go or any reason to leave the house, just go out and walk in a quiet place. If fortunately you have a good day, you can also benefit from the vitamin D provided by a sunny day.

2. Do sport

For several decades, Studies have shown that practicing exercise can improve our mental well-being regardless of age or physical condition . "Exercising regularly is good for humor and self-esteem," explains psychiatrist John Ratey of Harvard Medical School, author of "The New and Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain."

Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, chemical substances 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. In addition, it can also make us feel better when we see ourselves better.

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

"The 10 psychological benefits of practicing physical exercise"

3. Surround yourself with your family and friends

Supporting yourself in your intimate friends and in your relatives, that is, in the people you can trust and who will listen to you, will benefit you, because they will care about you, andu single presence acts as a protective factor of depression and against irrational thoughts characteristic of this pathology.

Also, if your friends are fun, they will make you have a good time and transport you to a positive and pleasant mood.

4. Set yourself 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 the long-term objectives are going to have this effect, but, in addition, it is necessary to have short-term objectives to remain motivated during the process. In fact, many times we propose goals without taking into account that we must 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

Eating healthy and balanced improves mental health and well-being . The diet is not going to cure depression, but it can help us feel better, because it affects general health and, therefore, mental health. A study conducted at the University Clinic of Navarra, has indicated that the diet can protect against depression and reduce your risk by 40 and 50% .

The study was led by Dr. Miguel Ángel Martínez & dash; González, who argues that this type of diet provides folate and B group vitamins that are essential in the metabolic pathways of methionine, homocysteine, and s-adenosyl-methionine (SAM) . The latter contributes to 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 & dash; 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 pastries) should be avoided, as they have an impact on the increase in body weight, 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 know ourselves, to inquire into our interior and show ourselves as we are . With his practice, self-awareness, self-knowledge and emotional intelligence are improved. In addition, it reduces stress, anxiety and, among other psychological benefits, improves self-esteem.

But more than a set of techniques to be in the present moment, is an attitude to life, a style of coping that drives personal strengths.The practice of mindfulness improves the state of consciousness and calm, which helps to self-regulate behavior, as well as creating an environment conducive to seeing life in a positive way, which can be really useful to prevent Seasonal Depressive Disorder.

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

"Mindfulness: 8 benefits of mindfulness"

Ask the Expert: Seasonal Depression (May 2024).


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