Are You SAD? Seasonal Depression Is More Than Just The Winter Blues
Updated May 14, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Deborah Horton
It is that time of year again. When it gets colder and the sun does not come out as much as usual. The holidays are upon us and we are expected to shop for gifts for our friends and family, plan and cook huge meals, and entertain guests while being extremely cheerful. Well, what happens if you just do not feel like doing any of that? Some people get depressed around this time of the year for unknown reasons and they just do not want to get into the holiday spirit.
In fact, there is a name for this condition. It is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and it is a form of depression that only shows up during certain seasons. Although it is most common for those with seasonal affective disorder to experience this condition during the fall and winter months but some actually have this issue during the spring and summer.
Although anyone can get seasonal affective disorder, it is most often seen in:
- Those who have relatives with mental health conditions such as depression
- Females are affected by SAD 4 times more often than men
- Adults between 18 and 30 years old
- Those who live in areas where the winter daylight hours are short such as the Northeast United States like New York, where there is only about nine hours of sunlight per day during the winter
According to statistics, approximately 10% of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder once in their lives. It is increasingly dependent on where you live. However, anyone of any age can get seasonal affective disorder no matter where they live. Some interesting facts about seasonal affective disorder include:
- Approximately 10 million adults in the United States are affected by seasonal affective disorder
- The further north or south of the equator that a person resides, the higher the chances of being affected by seasonal affective disorder
- Women are affected by seasonal affective disorder four times more often than men
- The average age of development of seasonal affective disorder is 23 years old
Symptoms of SAD
Although the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can vary depending on the individual, the most commonly reported signs are:
- Extreme daytime sleepiness
- Consistent sad or depressed mood
- Loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or useless
- Sleeping late
- Craving carbohydrates or sweets
- Gaining weight
- Loss of sex drive
- Thoughts of suicide
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Although experts are not 100% positive what causes seasonal affective disorder, it is thought that those with this disorder are being affected by the lack of sunlight and cooler temperatures during the fall and winter. Some of the theories include:
- The change in season disrupts the levels of melatonin, which affects a person's sleep and mood. The lack of melatonin can cause you to feel more sleepy and lethargic.
- A decrease in serotonin can also cause a change in mood. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps improve mood. The lack of sunlight can cause a decrease in vitamin D, causing your serotonin to be affected as well.
- The circadian rhythm (your biological clock) is another possible cause of seasonal affective disorder. The lack of sunlight in the fall and winter can disrupt the body's internal clock and may lead to depression and fatigue.
Am I Just Sad or Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Everyone has bad days or even a bad few days where they just feel blah or sad. However, if you have been feeling this way for longer than a few days and it is causing interruptions in your daily life, you may need to talk to someone about the possibility of having seasonal affective disorder. If you are having trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual, have no interest in your daily activities, or you are avoiding spending time with others, these can be signs that you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Even if you do not have the diagnostic symptoms of seasonal affective disorder but you are having feelings of sadness or depression that are interrupting your daily activities, you need to speak to someone about it.
The diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder is an individual who has major depression that coincides with specific seasons for at least two years. If you think you or someone you know could possibly be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, there is help available that may improve your mood. Without treatment, seasonal affective disorder can cause some serious complications that may be detrimental to your mental and physical health.
Similar to other types of depression, if you have seasonal affective disorder and do not seek treatment, you can experience problems that may make your life even more difficult. Although the disorder does go away on its own after a certain amount of time, the toll that it can take on your personal and professional life can be immense. For example, some typical complications are:
- Isolation or withdrawal from people causing relationship problems
- Missing work or having trouble at work or school
- Alcohol or drug use
- Thoughts of suicide
- Other forms of depression or anxiety disorders
Even though you know that seasonal affective disorder is temporary, getting treatment will prevent complications such as the ones listed above. As with any mental health disorders, getting help before your symptoms get worse is important. Although there is no specific treatment plan that can help everyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder, there are general treatment plans that can help. Some of the possible treatments include:
- Medication such as antidepressants have been proven to help those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. However, these medications usually take about seven to 10 days to start working so you have to be patient and do not stop taking the medication if you start to feel better. In addition, these drugs are so variable, it can take a while to determine the right medication and dosage that is right for you. Everyone is different so there is no specific medicine and dosage that is right for everyone who has seasonal affective disorder.
- Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is also a very effective way to combat your seasonal affective disorder. A psychotherapist or psychologist can help you figure out how to notice certain negative thoughts and behaviors so you can figure out ways to cope with them. The therapist can introduce certain relaxation techniques, antianxiety coping methods, and positive thought processes to help combat the negative feelings and symptoms.
- Phototherapy, or light therapy, is a way of combatting the lack of sunlight that may be causing the seasonal affective disorder. This is done by exposing yourself to light daily with a special lamp or light box. This can trick your body into thinking it is actually getting natural light and will trigger the chemicals in your brain that you need to improve your mood, such as serotonin and melatonin. These lights have to be specially approved by a doctor or therapist to get the best result. Do not be fooled by those "seasonal depression lamps" that you can buy on the internet. They are ineffective and may even be dangerous.
What Can I Do to Make Myself Feel Better Now?
It is best if you speak to someone to get help if you think you may have seasonal affective disorder. However, in the meantime, there are things you can do to help make yourself feel better right now. Some of these things include:
- One of the best ways to combat seasonal affective disorder on your own is to get some sunlight. Even if you only go out and get some sun for 15 or 20 minutes a day, it can boost your mood quite a bit and get rid of some of the lethargy you may be feeling.
- Another excellent way to decrease your depression is by getting some exercise. It has been proven that getting 30 minutes of exercise can increase certain chemicals in the brain that can make you feel good such as endorphins and serotonin.
- Limit Alcohol. Even when you are out with friends or family and they want you to partake in the partying, just remember, alcohol is a depressant. It may make you feel better for a short time, but eventually it will make you feel worse.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Try to get at least six to eight hours of sleep per night to feel your best.
- Eat Right. Make sure you are getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients or this can cause feelings of lethargy and depression. If you have not been eating right, consider taking a multivitamin or speak to your doctor about some sort of vitamin regimen that may be right for you.
When Is It Time to Get Help?
Even if your seasonal affective disorder is not "that bad," you have to remember that treating any condition early is better than waiting until it is "that bad." Whether you are just feeling blah or more tired than usual, if you are considering talking to someone about your feelings, it is time to talk to someone. BetterHelp.com is the biggest online mental health resource in the world and has more than 2,000 licensed professionals that can help you with whatever you need. No need for an appointment and no need for you to go to an office. You can talk to a therapist online with your phone, tablet, or computer anytime you are available. No waiting and you do not even have to get out of bed!
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