When the winter months are approaching, it is usually obvious. Soon after the leaves begin to change colour, chilly weather force us to spend more time indoors, which can be lonely. It feels more like midnight at 5 p.m. because the sun is also in hibernation mode, which makes us want to get into bed early and watch Netflix to get through the winter blues. Though many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, some people endure more than simply the blues (SAD).
You might genuinely be suffering from the disease, a type of seasonal depression, if you’re feeling abnormally lethargic, isolating yourself from friends, or having trouble concentrating on a daily basis.
Just so you know, SAD is a lot more serious than wishing for brighter days. According to Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, CA, those who experience it “feel depressed and have low mood states similar to someone who presents with a diagnosis of depression.”
What precisely is seasonal affective disorder?
Typically, SAD begins in the late fall or early winter and ends by the spring and summer. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, seasonal affective disorder can occur in the summer but is considerably less common than it is in the winter.
According to research, some people’s reaction to a reduction in daylight hours may be a contributing factor in seasonal affective low mood, claims Mendez. Although the precise cause of this is unknown, there are certain biochemical indicators in SAD patients.
One of them is that, according to the NIMH, patients with SAD may experience reduced serotonin levels in their nerve cells throughout the winter. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone that significantly affects mood. According to Hanne Hoffmann, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, bright light stimulates your brain, and because there are fewer daylight hours in the colder months, many people are not getting enough light to enjoy the beneficial stimulating effect any longer. In the winter, some people may overproduce the melatonin hormone, which makes them feel sleepier and lethargic. Last but not least, a deficiency in vitamin D, which research has connected to depressive symptoms, may also be to blame.
According to Mendez, women are diagnosed with SAD four times more frequently than males, and young folks are generally more susceptible to the condition. Your risk may also be increased if you have a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, depression, or seasonal affective disorder.
It’s crucial to remember that, like the majority of mental diseases, seasonal affective disorder doesn’t manifest itself in the same way in every sufferer. According to Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor emerita of psychology and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Most people think of [SAD] as depression but it could also be a seasonal pattern of manic episodes as well.”
What signs and symptoms are present with SAD?
SAD is merely a seasonal form of sadness and isn’t actually thought of as a distinct condition from major depressive disorder. According to the NIMH, in order to receive a diagnosis of SAD, you must have met the requirements for seasonal major depression for at least two years. Therefore, a brief feeling of melancholy on gloomy days doesn’t quite qualify.
According to Whitbourne, having a severe depressive episode in which you have depressive symptoms for the most of the day for at least two weeks is one of the symptoms of depression as opposed to mania. In order to identify the disease, the symptoms must be measurable.
The NIMH lists the following as the primary signs of serious depression:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless or guilty
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
However, the NIMH highlights the following SAD symptoms in the winter:
You constantly feel tired
Mendez claims that even after getting a full night’s sleep, people with SAD can feel exhausted for “much of the day.”
You overeat and crave carbs
According to Mendez, certain SAD sufferers may be more likely to eat in an effort to feel better. Your preferences for particular foods may alter as well. Eating a lot of unprocessed carbohydrates (such spaghetti, pizza, and chips) has been linked in studies to depression. Although the exact cause is unclear, one idea suggests that eating carbohydrates increases serotonin levels in the body, which explains why you might feel a little bit better after downing that platter of cookies.
You’re tempted to hibernate.
Mendez claims that people with SAD have a “tendency to isolate and shun social encounters.” Of course, a lot of individuals choose to spend the winter indoors because it’s typically warmer than being outside in the chilly weather. However, those who have SAD may try to avoid social situations and social interaction altogether.
You gain weight
Gaining weight might result from feeling too exhausted to maintain a regular schedule, eating comfort food in excess, and spending a lot of time inside.
What actions should you take if you think you may have SAD?
There are a few tried-and-true seasonal affective disorder remedies you can try out to improve your spirits and encourage a regular schedule if you notice your mood taking a severe dip in the winter. These include the following:
Speak with a therapist or other mental health expert.
Mendez advises seeking professional help for your mental health if your symptoms last for two weeks or more. They may suggest hormone-boosting drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or psychotherapy (so you may talk through your feelings and develop good coping methods). Speaking with your doctor will help you receive a proper diagnosis and determine the best course of action from there.
Consider light therapy.
According to the NIMH, light treatment exposes patients to strong, artificial light to help make up for the loss of sunlight they experience throughout the winter. SAD sufferers are frequently advised to spend 20 to 60 minutes in front of a light treatment lamp every morning, from early fall till spring. (These light boxes provide light that is about 20 times more powerful than ordinary interior lighting while filtering out UV rays.)
Hoffmann cautions against using your light therapy lamp right before bed because it can disrupt your sleep. Instead, use it in the morning. Hoffmann also advises patience, saying that it will take at least five to seven days for your lamp to make a difference if you are already having SAD symptoms. However, once you start feeling better, keep using it.
It also doesn’t hurt to try to get outside so you can benefit from some natural light. 20 minutes following lunch? Before returning to the workplace, take a stroll in the sunshine.
Check your vitamin D levels.
The sunshine vitamin is so named for a reason! Your doctor can perform a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels and may suggest supplements to help, particularly because it’s challenging to increase your levels alone through diet. According to the NIMH, vitamin D supplementation is generally regarded as a complimentary therapy for SAD and should be used in conjunction with other treatments.
Maintain a regular exercise schedule.
Even though it can be challenging to work out in bad weather, studies have shown that regular exercise can improve mood. Mendez thinks it may not be the only form of treatment for SAD, but it can be beneficial.
Toll-free number for mental health
Make a 988 call to the new mental health hotline if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Three easy numbers will connect you to help right away if you need mental health care. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is open 24/7.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 to speak with a certified crisis counsellor from the Crisis Text Line for free if you or someone you know needs help.