Winter is here, the days are getting shorter and nights longer! As the seasons change so does our internal clock. Many of us love winter, the sights and sounds of the season, but for many we can’t wait for Spring to arrive! Getting through this time until the first spring bud pops up can be very challenging for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Psychology Today estimates more than 10 million Americans are affected by SAD with another 10-20 percent having a mild case. This is a very common depressive disorder in teens, young adults, adults and seniors. SAD is four times more common in women than men. Some call it the “Winter Blues,” but it can also occur in summer and stop in the fall.
What causes SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that happens at the same time every year – it’s related to the changes of seasons and usually begins in the fall continues through winter but ends as spring arrives. The cause of SAD is unknown but there are possible reasons as outlined by The Mayo Clinic:
- Biological Clock
Our reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin Levels: A drop in the level of this brain chemical may affect our mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in Serotonin that might trigger depression.
- Melatonin Levels: The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Are there risk factors?
Family history, having major depression or bipolar disorder, or living far north or south of the equator as the sunlight is decreased in the winter and long days in the summer.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The symptoms may start mild but as the season progresses, they may become more severe. SAD should be taken very seriously as it can cause complications including school or work problems, withdrawing socially, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or behavior or other mental health disorders. The signs and symptoms may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Having low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- Changes in appetite or weight- cravings for sweet or starchy foods
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Trouble with concentration
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Are there treatment options?
It’s important to talk with a health care provider when if you are seeing any of the signs or symptoms of SAD. Your physician may complete a physical exam, lab tests or refer you for a further mental health evaluation. Psychology today reports that treatment to help with the symptoms may include some combination of light therapy, vitamin D supplement, antidepressant medication and counseling.
How to help your treatment
As a part of your self-care, monitor your mood and energy level, take advantage of available sunlight, plan fun activities for the winter season and be sure to continue physical activities. If you start to see any symptoms, seek medical treatment. You may want to include mind-body connections to help cope with the symptoms.
Yes, winter is here but a positive attitude will help keep you upbeat. Time to get out there, throw a few snowballs, grab the sleds, down the hot chocolate and go for a winter walk.
Spring will be here soon…
The information on this site is intended to raise awareness and understanding of specific health issues. It should not be used for diagnosis or a substitute for health care by your physician.