SAD, seasonal affective disorder

•Gloomy weather can bring about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which may lead to sadness, anxiety, lethargy, and even depression.
•The true cause of SAD remains unknown, though experts have suggested sunlight exposure and body clock disruptions as possible causes.
•One can overcome SAD with appropriate medication, therapy, and professional guidance.

The rainy season is here, bringing with it gray skies, chilly weather, booming thunder, sudden showers that punish you for forgetting your umbrella, and horrible traffic (especially in the city). It’s all enough to make anyone feel down in the dumps, right?

For some people, however, a change in weather may have actual depressive effects.

Why we feel SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or the rather on-the-nose acronym SAD) is a type of depression triggered by changes in weather. Signs of this mood disorder include feelings of extreme sadness or anxiety, decreased energy, loss of interest in activities typically enjoyed, shortness of temper, and changes in patterns of sleeping or eating.

Cases of SAD tend to pop up most frequently during the darker, chilly season. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mood shifts may also happen during sunny weather. However, these are significantly less common.

The exact cause of SAD remains unclear, but some have correlated it with lack of exposure to sunlight as the daylight period decreases. These experts believe that a lack of sunlight increases the production of melatonin in the body, a hormone that regulates sleep. This manifests in lethargy and longer bouts of sleeping.

However, a 2013 study found little evidence of the effect of sunlight or other weather conditions on depressive symptoms.

According to Dr. Alex Korb, adjunct assistant professor at UCLA and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, depression is more likely brought on by the shift in your body’s natural rhythms as you adjust to the weather. Mood-lifting activities, such as exercising or meeting with friends, tend to get interrupted when the weather keeps literally raining on your parade.

What the genes mean

Researchers have also observed biological clues that manifest along with SAD.

There have been studies on the role of genes that function as regulators of the body’s circadian rhythms, as well as the chemical messengers for dopamine and serotonin. Interestingly, findings revealed that a person with a family history of SAD may develop the condition, too. An estimated 15 percent of individuals with SAD have a first-degree relative with the same condition. Additionally, about 25 to 67 percent of people with SAD have one or more relatives also afflicted with SAD.

Surprisingly, women seem to have it tougher when the cold days come. Statistics reveal that SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men. A 2018 study of over 150,000 participants in the UK supports this data, where results showed that women experienced symptoms of tiredness and anhedonia (the lack of ability to feel pleasure) with seasonal variations. Previous studies have indicated the greater endocrine and inflammatory stress responses in women to cause the increased prevalence of depression.

Brightening your mood

If you think that you may be experiencing SAD, know that you aren’t alone.

Doctor-prescribed medication and therapy can help you overcome depression in times of gloomy weather. An example would be antidepressant medication that regulates brain serotonin activity. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help by teaching the patients to replace negative thoughts and practices with positive, engaging activities.

Light therapy has also been used to help persons with SAD, particularly in countries with reduced daylight periods. Light therapy uses a bright artificial light that emits a spectrum similar to sunlight. This form of therapy has been observed to have positive, antidepressant effects on patients.

Lastly, if you think that you may have symptoms of SAD, don’t be ashamed to seek professional help. That could very well turn out to be the ray of sunshine you need to get back on track.–MF

Cover: Bibhukalyan Acharya



Author: Jess Vilvestre

Jess is on her way to getting her license in engineering. On the side of studying, she spends her time writing, cooking, and watching movies and plays. Jess has also been working with an education project that capacitates STEM learners with portable science activity kits.