Often called the winter blues or seasonal depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can actually occur during any season. It is a more common affliction than most people realize and affects millions.
There is no exact cause known for the disorder. Yet, most experts agree that it is connected with changing seasons, shorter days, and lower light levels. Our natural circadian rhythm is also thrown out of whack whenever we don’t follow a normal day to night routine. This is quite common for people working the night shift and sleeping during daylight hours.
The amount of light we are exposed to every day has a direct effect on our body’s chemistry. A connection to the level of substances such as melatonin and serotonin has been found. Melatonin affects our sleep patterns and serotonin balances our moods. Patients suffering from SAD often have diminished amounts of both.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone, but women seem to be more susceptible to it than men. The largest population age-wise that appears to be affected are mid-teens to late fifties. Studies have shown that the chances of people getting SAD for the first time goes down as they get older.
It has been found to run in families so if a close relative has SAD, it is likely that you might also experience it. It is also clear that the farther away from the equator a person lives, the higher their chances are of having SAD. They are exposed to even less sunlight than those in closer proximity to the sun’s rays.
Because having the winter blues is essentially a form of depression, many of the symptoms can be the same or similar. Those with bipolar disorder can also be affected adversely from SAD. Some of the symptoms can include:
- Low energy, feeling sluggish
- Difficulty concentrating
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Feelings of depression all day, every day
- Sleeping difficulties
- Easily becoming agitated
- Craving and eating more carbohydrates
- Loss of interest or joy in activities you once loved
- Feeling hopeless, guilty, or worthless
- Frequent suicidal thoughts or death fantasies
It is always a good idea to contact your doctor if you are having any types of the symptoms listed above. Medical professionals can do tests to rule out things such as thyroid issues or other health concerns. A mental health evaluation can be useful. It may help determine if it is just SAD that you are dealing with or something more serious.
The most common therapy for treating SAD is getting more light into your life. Getting out into the sunshine is one of the top prescriptions for SAD. In areas that receive extraordinary amounts of rain and gray days, this may seem impossible – but it’s not. There are many products on the market that can mimic sunlight and help your body adjust.
Most doctors will prescribe light therapy or phototherapy. This is the practice of sitting in front of a special light box that emits a powerful fluorescent light. It is said to be more than 20 times brighter than normal light found indoors. Researchers claim that the extra light stimulates the body to produce more serotonin. This, in turn, elevates your mood. Lightbox therapy is usually an ongoing treatment and not something that is a quick fix.
There are several medications that may also be prescribed for this type of depression. They will vary with the type of symptoms you exhibit as well as with each individual doctor. Different drugs have a wide variety of side effects so be sure to do your research before beginning any new prescriptions.
Get Out and About
If you think there is a chance you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, talk to your doctor. In the meantime, you can do several things to help your body adjust to the shorter, darker days of winter.
Get outside as much as possible and seek that sunshine. Exercise and get the blood flowing even if it is just walking in your sleeping garden. Finally, try to get as much rest and sleep as your body needs. These simple things can improve your mood as well as your overall health and help you fight those winter blues.