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The Daylight Saving Time Effect: What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Daylight Saving Time has come and passed, and has left many Americans feeling a bit out of sorts when it comes to their sleeping schedules. While most enjoy the extra hour of sleep when we “fall back” at the end of Daylight Saving Time, that extra hour also signifies the return of a seasonal mood disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health(NIH), seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that recurs on a seasonal basis—namely during wintertime, or in other, less common cases, summertime. To be diagnosed with SAD, an individual must exhibit symptoms of major depression for at least two years, in addition to meeting several other criteria.

The symptoms of SAD are the same symptoms one might experience as a result of major depression, including:

  • Depressed mood
  • Frequent oversleeping
  • Weight gain or cravings for carbohydrates
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating

Daylight Saving Time and Your Mood

If you’ve felt a little grouchy since the time change, you’re not alone.

For those who work or go to school on a typical nine a.m. to five p.m. schedule, the lack of daylight in the evening can be quite unsettling once Daylight Saving Time comes to an end. The period of adjustment can leave the individual feeling more tired than usual, though if those feelings persist for longer periods of time, it could be an indicator of seasonal depression.

Particularly in northern regions where sunlight is scarce, Daylight Saving Time can have a tremendous effect on a person’s mood. When combined with existing mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, combatting these changes in mood with positive habits can prove to be extremely difficult.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, around half a million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with another 10 to 20 percent suffering from a milder form of “seasonal blues,” which can often be connected to the holiday season.

When a person’s symptoms occur around the same time each year, in nearly the same pattern, it’s a good indicator that they may be dealing with SAD. Cleveland Clinic reports that there are several theories about what causes SAD, including one that exposure to light may reset the biological clock.

In countries such as Norway and Sweden, where little sun is seen all winter, residents report feeling unmotivated and sluggish from fall through spring. This problem is so severe, in fact, that some schools, as profiled in a piece by The Atlantic, are experimenting with special ceiling lights that adjust to improve mood and productivity.

The average age of onset for seasonal depression is between 20 and 30 years old, though symptoms can also appear much sooner.

Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Your first course of action when facing SAD, or any mental health concern, is to consult a trusted professional. While there are many self-care tips that can ease your depressive symptoms, it is important to consult a doctor to determine if you meet the criteria for SAD, and if you do, what course of treatment you should take.

To cope with seasonal affective disorder, consider adding the following steps to your routine:

Talk to your therapist

Making a plan with your therapist can be extremely beneficial in combatting your seasonal depression. Your therapist will help you in determining what kind of depression you are dealing with—whether it is SAD or something else—and create a treatment plan that will best benefit your needs.

Consider light therapy

Particularly if you live in the North, light therapy boxes can provide much-needed “sunshine” to your day.

Stay active

Listening to your body and providing it with the right nutrition and exercise can make all the difference when dealing with symptoms of seasonal depression. Consider taking a walk first thing in the morning to get your blood flowing and to benefit from some sunshine, or go for a outdoor bike ride or jog on a break from work or school.

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