Could it be SAD?

When the days are cold, overcast, and shorter, it can affect our mood. Often referred to as the “winter blues,” SAD (seasonal affective disorder) can affect anyone, anywhere; however it is four times more common among women, and those who live in cold climates, far from the equator. Young adults and teens are more apt to have symptoms of SAD than older adults as well as people who have a personal or family history of depression.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown; however, medical professionals hypothesize that it occurs due to lack of sunlight or a change in a person’s natural sleep cycle. Researchers are studying other factors that may play a key role such as lack of Vitamin D, too much of the hormone “melatonin”, and problems regulating serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood.

Symptoms of SAD can often manifest in ways similar to depression:

  • having little energy
  • having trouble sleeping and/or sleeping longer, yet never feeling rested
  • having trouble staying focused
  • changes in appetite and/weight
  • withdrawing from usual social activities
  • feeling hopeless

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of Winter Pattern SAD include: excessive sleepiness, low energy, overeating, withdrawal from social activities and cravings for carbohydrates. On the other hand, Summer seasonal affective disorder includes symptoms such as: decreased appetite with possible weight loss, trouble sleeping, restlessness, and anxiety. Any of these symptoms can make it hard to perform normal, daily activities such as going to school or work, and participating in sports or other activities.

The most common treatments for SAD are light therapy, counseling/therapy, Vitamin D and medication. This is difficult especially for those living in areas where it is too dark and cold to go outside and/or those who work/go to school during the sunlight hours. However, any time outside in the sun is helpful, even if it’s just a short walk during a lunch break. If you can’t exercise outside, indoor exercise can still be helpful.

SAD can be challenging to diagnose because a person has to have seasonal symptoms for at least two years. Thus, if you think you might have SAD, talk to your health care provider and keep a log of your symptoms. The good news is there is treatment that is very helpful. If you or someone you are close to is suffering from symptoms of SAD, it’s best to talk with a health care provider so you can get help.

– Oliver