Wondering if the “winter blues” are just affecting you? You aren’t alone. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, and women are four times more likely to be diagnosed than men. However, there are treatments and ways to combat seasonal depression. Let’s learn more about it.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are related to your mood and may impact your daily life. It could be difficult waking up in the morning, or you may have a lack of energy and motivation. Others have difficulty concentrating or an increased appetite. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed or down most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Low energy
- Sleeping problems
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling agitated
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can differ by the seasons, and winter-onset SAD, which may be referred to as winter depression, has symptoms typical to oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, and low energy.
Summer-onset SAD, or summer depression, may include symptoms of trouble sleeping (insomnia), poor appetite, weight loss, and anxiety.
Causes of SAD:
While the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, there are some factors that may influence it.
- Serotonin and melatonin levels: Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood, and reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. A change in seasons may also disrupt the balance of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
- Biological clock (circadian rhythm): The reduced level of sunlight may disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression, or winter-onset seasonal affective disorder.
Treatment of SAD:
There are a few ways to treat seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy is a proven way to help, as it mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this light causes a chemical change in your brain that lifts the mood and eases symptoms of SAD.
To use a lightbox for therapy at home and treat seasonal affective disorder, simply turn the light on within the first hour of waking up in the morning and sit in front of it for 20 to 30 minutes. Avoid looking directly at the light. Features such as light intensity and safety may vary, and research should be done before purchasing.
Another way to treat seasonal affective disorder is to think of it like depression. Treatment for depression varies from case to case, so talking to a licensed professional to help diagnose and treat the condition is the best approach.
When to see a doctor
It’s normal within the human experience to have off days or days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time or can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it is time to talk to a professional counselor and seek treatment and a diagnosis. This is especially important if your sleep and appetite are affected, and you have frequent thoughts of death, suicide, and hopelessness.
At Foothills Neurology, we have licensed professional counselors who specialize in treating depression and anxiety. Talk with a specialist today to help boost your mood this holiday season, and know that you are not alone in the battle against seasonal depression.