SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder (or seasonal depression.. they just wanted to be literal)

There are days like today when I just don’t know what’s wrong. My mind is a sea of emotions. I feel all of them and all at once. Emotions are like Kashmiri chilli powder. When they hit, they hit hard. Lol. It’s tough living alone, especially in winters. The number of outdoorsy things you can do, go down in number as compared to spring/summer. There is an overwhelming feeling all the time- like a pit in my stomach. I love going to work but when I come home in the evenings, these intense pit-like feelings return. I know only I can help myself. Talking to friends and family can only be a temporary fix. It’s up to me to make it a permanent fix.

I was diagnosed with seasonal depression two years ago and it generally affects me between late Jan and mid April every year. I have nothing against winters in New York/New Jersey. They are as cold to me as they should be (pun intended). And trust me, I endure the same happy feeling everyone else feels when winters arrive in early October every year. By then, I’ve had enough sun to recharge and I’ve also forgotten how sad winters are for me until they’re back to remind me of it all. Okay, they’re not as sad as I make them sound, but here’s the thing – there’s no sunlight. I’ve realized I definitely have better days when there is sunlight. It’s a whole different feeling when the heat hits my face while I’m walking to work every morning. All that Vitamin D!

I was born and raised in India. Sometimes I wonder why they even call it ‘winter’ in India because it’s still super sunshiny, 365 days of the year. Thanks to the super nice weather, I didn’t know there was something called seasonal depression till I moved here. After 18 years of soaking up good sun everyday, I don’t see myself settling here and getting used to the no-sun-for-four-months weather. It’s stupid. So here I am in late January, social withdrawals – tick, hopelessness – tick, cozying up in the blanket – tick.

If we think about what exactly happens in the brain that causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I believe it has something to do with Serotonin – a neurotransmitter for mood. Research also put forward that sunlight regulates normal serotonin levels which go down the drain in people with SAD. Decreased serotonin levels affect mood and sleep. These changes can make a person feel upset, detached, and depressed. Perhaps I like going in to work because of the large french windows in the lab that let a lot of daylight in.

The best ways to treat SAD are

  1. Light Therapy – There are very bright light boxes that a person can sit in front of, usually in the mornings. Research has shown that most people respond to light therapy in 3-5 days followed by significant improvement in the second week.
  2. Talk Therapy – also known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is talking to a therapist in weekly sessions to help restore positive thoughts and feelings about winter.

After sharing all this, here’s a question that pops up in my mind – What can we do to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder? It SADdens me to tell you that there’s not many people out there who are researching this question. Perhaps, it’s time.

credits to the makers of Spongebob Squarepants