Moving Tips & Resources

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder in a New Environment

If you’re planning a move across time zones or further away from the equator, you may encounter symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that occurs with the change of day-light hours, usually caused by the change in seasons. It affects most people in late fall into winter and late spring into summer. However, a drastic change in location and day-light hours may induce similar symptoms.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “As seasons change, there is a shift in our biological internal clocks or circadian rhythm, due partly to changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of step with our daily schedules. ”

Experts don’t fully understand why certain people are more likely to experience SAD than others. It may be that they are more light-sensitive than others, and experience dramatic shifts in hormone production, according to their exposure to light.

The lack of sunlight is believed to cause chemical imbalances of serotonin and melatonin in the body. Both chemicals help regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycles, energy, and mood. As a result, scientists continue to study ways in which hormones and sleep-wake cycles differ during the changing seasons.

What it feels like to have SAD:

  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Appetite changes, craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty concentrating

Seasonal Affective Disorder was first introduced in the 1980s by Dr Norman E. Rosenthal MD and his associates at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Motivated by his own experience of depression, during the dark days of the Northern US winter, Rosenthal conducted several studies before theorizing that this disorder was caused by the lack of sunlight in winter compared to other times of the year.

The treatment he suggested to patients was phototherapy (light therapy) with exposure to 30 minutes of fluorescent soft-white light at 10,000 lux a day. Compared with anti-depressants, the effects of light therapy are quick to work, usually four to seven days instead of four to six weeks!

Although professionals may prescribe light therapy, anti-depressants among other remedies, there are ways you can treat symptoms at home:

  • Increase Vitamin D intake
  • Limit alcoholic and caffeinated drinks
  • Increase sun light exposure. Get outside as much as you can!
  • Purchase a UV light
  • Stay active! Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Try a new activity.
  • Pay attention to what you are eating. Pack healthy snacks and avoid a ton of carbohydrates.
  • Lighten the mood. Spend time with family and friends. Reminisce and enjoy their company.
  • Develop a sleep routine! Stick a regular bedtime schedule so you can rise with the sun.

What other ways have you learned to cope with time change or lack of sunlight?