The cold, dark winter months can easily put a damper on our mood. We long for the warmth of spring and summer and the ability to get outside without layers upon layers of clothing. However, for some, this damper goes much deeper and actually transforms into a mental health condition. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as “the winter blues” is a form of depression that, just as the name alludes to, is seasonal. SAD typically begins in late autumn or early winter and lifts as the days get longer and warmer in spring and summer. An estimated 3% of the U.S. population, or around 10 million people, suffer from significant effects of SAD. Another 10% may experience milder forms of the disorder. But how exactly does this disorder affect people?
One of the primary factors causing seasonal affective disorder is light, or lack thereof. The lack of sunlight as we set our clocks back and the days get shorter, combined with the amount of time spent inside during the winter can be the trigger. Reduced sunlight/exposure to sunlight can cause a drop in a brain chemical called serotonin. This chemical controls our mood, so a serotonin depletion can lead to feelings of depression. There’s no universal start or end day for everyone’s SAD. Some may experience symptoms as early as September and as late as May, while others may only be impacted during January and February, which are known as the darkest and most difficult months. Spring/summer SAD can also occur, but it is much less prevalent.
The symptoms of winter SAD can vary from person-to-person. However, oversleeping and increased fatigue/low energy are key indicators of the disorder. Changes in appetite, especially a sudden craving for high-carb foods, as well as weight gain are also common signs of the disorder. Many of the symptoms of non-seasonal depression can also be present in cases of SAD. Motivation can be difficult to muster up, which can translate to a lack of productivity at work, decreases in social activity, as well as instances of anxiety. Problems sleeping or difficulty falling and staying asleep can also occur, which can contribute to and exacerbate the symptoms above.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from SAD, don’t be afraid to seek out help. Under the right care and plan, symptoms can be treated and minimized. Treatments for SAD include light therapy, psychotherapy, and increased doses of vitamin D. In addition, there are things you can do yourself to help cope with seasonal affective disorder, such as exercise and taking a long stroll on sunny days. The cold may bring SAD, but seasonal affective disorder can be treated!
Posted on January 7 2019 in Blog