(psssst…There’s a helpful infographic at the bottom of this post!)
If you’re anything like me, you find yourself sleeping a whole lot in the Winter, eating a ton of bread and sweets, and generally just feeling “blah.” Plans seem less exciting. Days seem less motivated. Keeping in touch with friends seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it?
If this sounds familiar, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or Seasonal Depression.
About 6% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with seasonal depression, but in other countries that percentage is much more staggering. (The U.S. is still struggling to recognize it as a real thing. But, like, it totally is.)
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (yes, SAD. *eye roll*), is a subcategory of depression. It comes with the changing of the seasons. For most, this begins in Fall and generally stays with you in the colder, Winter months. Some people have been diagnosed as having SAD at the start of Spring or in the Summer months, but this is less common.
SAD can make you feel like you have no energy, causes moodiness, and makes you less interested in activities you used to enjoy. Essentially, it is depression masked as a simple case of the “winter blues.” However, SAD is just as serious and should not be ignored if symptoms worsen.
What Forms Does SAD Take?
SAD has many symptoms. If you are affected by this disorder, you may experience the following:
- Feeling depressed the majority of the day for days at a time
- Low energy or lack of interest in activities
- Changes in sleep or appetite patterns
- Weight changes
- Difficulty concentrating, sluggishness, or agitation
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
- Suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts about death
Specifically, Winter-onset seasonal depression has these symptoms:
Oversleeping, high-carb food cravings, weight gain, and tiredness/low energy.
[….Which, like, party of one. When I am seasonally depressed, you can usually find me taking a nap and eating bread when I wake up.]
Spring/Summer-onset seasonal depression has these symptoms:
Trouble sleeping, poor appetite, weight loss, and agitation/anxiety.
Why Do People Get SAD?
The exact causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder remain to be seen, but there are theories.
One theory is that less sunlight leads the brain to make less serotonin – which is linked to the brain pathways that are responsible for mood regulation. When these pathways don’t function normally, the result can be depression accompanied by fatigue and weight gain.
Another theory is that SAD is triggered by hormones produced by the brain at certain times in the year – which might explain why some people get SAD in the spring and summer as opposed to the fall and winter.
Other medical professionals think that due to the lack of sunlight in the Fall and Winter (think: shorter days!), the brain is overproducing the hormone melatonin. This, in turn, means that our circadian rhythm is off, which messes with our sleep and our mood. It’s a mess, really.
So, what can I do about it for now?
Doctors recommend that you spend some time outside every day during the daylight hours, even if it’s cloudy.
Eating a well-balanced diet can also help with energy levels – even if we all know what we really want are carbs, starch, and sweet foods.
(You knew this was coming…) Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
Make an effort to stay in your social circle and try hard to maintain your regular, scheduled activities instead of skipping out on them. Social support is really valuable at times like this.
Okay, Okay. When Should I See a Doctor?
Sometimes it is necessary for people with SAD to take up antidepressants. Other treatment pathways involve getting more light – whether that’s natural sunlight or through phototherapy with the use of a “happy lamp.” This “full spectrum” light is shown to have an antidepressant effect.
If you feel depressed, fatigued, and irritable around the same time each year, then you may have a form of SAD. Talk to your doctor openly about your symptoms and follow their recommendations. If you are having suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts about death, do not hesitate to call your doctor or, if needed, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
You are not alone- I’m right there with you this Winter! I’m working out and eating healthy in the hopes to combat it in its full form.
Does anyone else out there suffer from SAD?
All my love,