I’ve Got the (Winter) Blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder
Most people experience sadness at some time in their lives, it is a normal human emotion and often comes and goes. You may feel sad for a particular reason, like a breakup or failing a test, or a friend moving away. You may sometimes even feel sad for what seems like no reason, and that can be normal too, but sadness that is affecting your life or that that lasts a long time could be depression.
You may have heard of depression before – it is more than feeling blue occasionally. Depression is a strong mood that includes sadness, despair and hopelessness that lasts for weeks or months.
There is a specific type of depression call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that occurs with the change of the seasons.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a kind of depression that occurs at the same time every year. Usually people with SAD have symptoms of depression as the daylight becomes shorter – at the start of and through the winter. Some people call this “winter depression”. No one knows for sure why this happens, but some experts believe it is triggered by the brain’s response to less exposure to daylight. When the days start to become longer as spring and summer approach symptoms usually get better.
The opposite of this is true as well, some people experience symptoms at the start of the spring, and start to feel better in the fall. This is less common, and is sometimes called “Spring onset SAD”
What are some of the symptoms I may feel?
- Feeling sad, down, hopeless, or cranky most days
- Feeling less interested/no longer caring about doing the things that used to bring you joy
- Weight changes
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Feeling tired or like you have no energy
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Forgetting things or having trouble concentrating
- Feeling restless, or having trouble staying still
- Moving or speaking much more slowly than usual
- Thinking about death or suicide
Keep in mind that your symptoms and how they affect your life can range from mild to severe.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder treated?
Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated in many ways. Some common treatments for SAD include:
- Increased exposure to light – For people with mild symptoms it may help to spend more time outdoors (going for a daily walk during the day). Full spectrum lightbulbs can also be helpful to increase the light in your home.
- Light Therapy – For people with stronger symptoms light therapy may be helpful. Light therapy, which is also called phototherapy, involves a special light that is similar to daylight. The light is normally used for 45 minutes a day, usually in the morning.
- Talk Therapy – Talk therapy, which can also be referred to as psychotherapy, involves talking to a trained professional about the diagnosis of SAD and ways to help with your symptoms by reframing thoughts and redirecting negative self-talk. It can also be helpful to build connections with other people, which can help decrease isolation and loneliness.
- Medication – Some people may be started on antidepressant medications by their Primary Care Provider or psychiatrist. These medications help to regulate neuro transmitters in the brain that are thought to play a role in controlling your moods.
If you have been diagnosed with SAD, there are some things you can do to help yourself:
- Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment
- Exercise regularly, and when possible try to exercise outside
- Try to spend time with friends and family who love and support you and understand what you are feeling- it can really help to feel connected (even if it is through Zoom!)
- Ask for help if you need it – this may mean taking extra time with homework or school projects, or with sports or other activities you may be involved in.
- Practice good sleep hygiene – a sleep routine that is the same on the weeknights and weekends, regular bed and wake times can help contribute to positive mental health.
What should I do if I have symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The best thing you can do is to talk to someone about it, whether that is a parent, teacher or counselor. Also make sure to see your Primary Care Provider for suggestions and guidance to help you feel better.
If at any time you feel overwhelmed or unsafe, do not wait, talk to an adult right away or dial 911.
-Social Worker Leah