It’s that time of year again: it’s cold, dark for longer than it’s light, and we wrap ourselves in layers of clothing. For some of us winter is a welcome time to stay indoors, warm and cosy by the fireplace listening to the rain… But it’s not so great if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that lifts during spring and summer.
If you suffer from SAD, then you probably feel like hiding under the covers until spring arrives.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Everyone has the blues now and then. But SAD is a depressive state that occurs seasonally, year after year, usually in the autumn and winter. If you suffer from SAD, you may feel perfectly normal during the spring and summer months, but starting around April or May, symptoms begin showing up. As the days get shorter and winter approaches you will have lowered mood, reduced energy levels and feel like you need more sleep.
For some people out there these changes can develop into a full blown episode of winter depression – “the winter blues”.
This is a real condition that can have a devastating impact on your life. You may think it’s all in your head but it isn’t. These feelings of depression come and go with the seasons.
The exact cause of SAD is still not fully known, but there are some factors that seem to be involved, and they involve the decreased amount of sunlight that autumn and winter bring.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that impacts mood and sleep.The levels of melatonin can fluctuate as the seasons change and may cause feelings of depression.
- Serotonin: When the amount of sunlight drops, so can your serotonin levels. Since this chemical helps you have feelings of well-being and happiness, not having enough of it can cause your mood to drop.
- Internal Clock (circadian rhythm): Some scientists think that decreased sunlight disrupts your normal rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness. The result is sad and depressed feelings.
Do I have SAD? Here are 10 Signs You May Have Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- You experience feelings of sadness, grumpiness, moodiness, irritability, anxiousness or depression.
- You may feel as though you cannot get enough sleep—struggling to get out of the bed in the morning, feeling drowsy during the day and going to bed earlier than you usually do.
- Your energy and concentration may also run low, and this can affect your productivity at work and at home. Of course, not having the energy to ‘get things done,’ only causes you more frustration and more feelings of depression.
- Weight gain. If you are a SAD sufferer you may typically crave foods high in carbohydrates and can gain between 4 and 13 kilograms each year.
- Your social life is suffering. If you are depressed, you just won’t enjoy being around others as much as you used to. This can turn into social withdrawal which makes your feelings of depression and sadness even worse.
- You lose interest in your usual activities.
- You have difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- You experience a loss of libido.
- You are plagued by geelings of pessimism, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness and in severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide
- The symptoms lift in spring and summer
The Good News Is There Are Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are you one of the millions of people who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, the good news is there are treatment options available.You may need to experiment with different treatments until you find one or a combination that works for you:
- Light therapy: Up to 85% of winter depression sufferers can get huge results from just sitting under a therapy light. The bright light balances the chemicals in your body, helping you to feel less depressed and more like yourself.
- Vitamin D3: Vitamin D is produced in your body naturally when exposed to sunlight. Just 20-30 minutes of sunlight will produce 10,000 – 50,000 IUs of Vitamin D. This is important because Vitamin D is a hormone that supports a healthy heart, cellular replication, immune system, mood & mental health, muscles, blood sugar levels, and much more!
- Exercise: Exercise is a very powerful tool in the fight against SAD. When you exercise, your body releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins cause you to feel happy, confident and give you a feeling of well-being. All you will need to do is sustain your workout for about 30 minutes to get these amazing results.
- Dawn Simulators: The winter months bring a much more abrupt change of light to dawn and dusk, unlike the gradual changes of spring. This may be one of the aggravators of SAD. Maybe you could try a dawn simulator. These simulators are programmed to gradually brighten your room each morning before you wake up. There have been some great success with the use of dawn simulators.
You are not alone if you are beginning to feel depressed with the shortened days that we are experiencing. Experiment with some of the treatment options and especially start exercising.
Before you know it, the days will begin lengthening out again and you’ll be back to your old self in no time!