BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Winter is coming, so shorter and colder days spark seasonal affective disorder (SAD) along with multiple other changes to our everyday lives. The gloomier part of the year (in most parts of the world), is now upon us. Cold winds, rains, and snow are all edging closer, or even have already arrived.
However, the need for thicker clothing is not the only hindrance that many people have to deal with. In fact, a type of depression or ‘winter blues’ is commonly associated with this time of the year. So, if you’re feeling moodier, noted a change in energy or sleep patterns, shift in eating habits, or social isolation, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Back in 1981, a researcher at the National Institutes of Mental Health, Norman Rosenthal was studying the consequence of light on mental health. More specifically, he was regarding how its lack affected the minds of many patients. This arrived with a varied amounts of symptoms. Among them was depression or mood changes.
While Rosenthal believed this to be a rare disorder, around 3,000 people contacted him that year following an article on his study. In 1984, it was officially recognized as a mental health disorder. Three years later, it was added in the American Psychiatric Association’s manual for depression. He spent three additional decades studying the condition.
Today, estimated numbers say that around 10 million people only in the United States face SAD each year. The shorter days and colder weather, along with the lack of light, has an unusual effect on many. It makes them moodier, lowers their energy, makes it difficult for them to interact, and heightens food cravings. This is even though neither of those were typical for them during summer months.
Patients have described it as “a cold, dark hole” with light just outside their reach. It’s highly impacting on their lifestyle during the months until springs arrives again.
Rosenthal believed that the lack of light reduces the amount of serotonin. It’s a chemical within the brain that affects the mood. While the reduced light lowers levels, people have the tendency of compensating by rising them through other sources, such as carbohydrates or sugar. It’s also one of the reasons why most gain weight during the winter months.
Those who feel the symptoms of SAD, however, are advised to resort to other measures. Light therapy is one, by exposing yourself to a light box for 20 to 90 minutes per day. Others include exercising, dieting, meditation, or taking a long, relaxing vacation.
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