Do shorter days and changes in weather make you feel blue? Do you tend to feel at your lowest when winter comes? You might be feeling the classic symptoms of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs when the seasons change. There are two types of SAD, the fall onset and the spring onset. Winter-pattern SAD or winter depression is a common form of seasonal depression. Its symptoms usually begin in the late fall to early winter months and ease during the summer months. While the summer-pattern SAD or summer depression, which is a rare type of this disorder, may happen in the late spring to early summer. Just like depression and other mental health issues, SAD may disrupt people from enjoying their life if left untreated. And although SAD has no clear cause, different treatments are available to help those who suffer from it.
Today, let’s talk about its causes, symptoms, and ways how to get through seasonal depression.
More than the Winter Blues
In 1984, Norman Rosenthal and his colleagues first described SAD in a journal article based on a study in Maryland USA. Since then, this term has been accepted in many different parts of the world. Those who live far from the equator are more likely to develop symptoms. And when it comes to demographics, there is a higher rate of SAD among women than men, and 20-30 years old is the average age group that is usually affected.
Some may experience full-blown SAD symptoms during severe winter weather while others may feel the winter blues during milder winter seasons. Winter blues are common. It can make you feel more down and unhappy than usual but it does not affect your ability to enjoy life, unlike SAD.
What are the symptoms?
Seasonal depression tends to come and go about the same time every year. The following are its most common symptoms:
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Daytime drowsiness
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Loss of interest and pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Social withdrawal
- Memory and concentration issues
What causes SAD?
As we said, its specific causes are unknown but some factors may be connected to a chemical change in the brain. These are thought to be part of the causes of seasonal depression.
It plays an important role in sleep patterns and mood. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness. As winter days become darker, melatonin production increases. As a result, we feel sleepy and sluggish.
Researchers believe that a drop in serotonin may cause seasonal depression. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a decrease in this chemical which may trigger depression.
Low Vitamin D
Our body produces Vitamin D or the “sunshine vitamin” when our skin is exposed to UV light. It helps encourage serotonin production and release. So low levels of Vitamin D in your body can negatively impact your mood.
The circadian rhythm
The combination of decreased serotonin and increased melatonin impact circadian rhythm. Also called our biological clock, it’s a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. A decrease in sunlight may affect your body’s internal clock thus disrupting your ability to sleep and function properly.
How to get through seasonal depression?
Depression may be linked to other health conditions so you must consult your health provider at the onset of feeling its symptoms. Its diagnosis may include a careful mental health exam and medical history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
SAD treatments may differ, but most of the time, it includes one or a combination of the following:
Due to shorter sunny days, sun exposure decreases, which we already know can negatively impact our mood and health. So exposure to a special light for a specific amount of time each day is recommended.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
These prescription medicines aim to help correct the chemical imbalance that may lead to SAD.
These treatments may pave the way for how to get through seasonal depression but they won’t be effective unless you start improving your lifestyle and the quality of your life in general. There are extra steps that you can take at home to better manage its symptoms and avoid them from getting worse over time.
Get us much sunshine as you can
Winter season means limited sunlight so whenever sun exposure is possible, take the opportunity to stay outside or near the window.
Seek help as soon as possible
SAD is often confused with winter blues, but they differ in a way that those who experience the blues have milder symptoms. According to Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at NIH, “Winter blues is a general term, not a medical diagnosis. It’s fairly common, and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time.”
SAD, on the other hand, is a well-defined clinical diagnosis that is connected to the shortening of daylight hours. It interferes with daily functioning over a significant time. If you think you have either the winter blues or seasonal depression, it is best to consult your doctor and get help right away.
Have a regular sleep-wake routine
Our health, both mentally and physically, suffers if we don’t get proper sleep every night. So adopting a consistent sleep schedule is a must. Keep the same bedtime schedule on both weekdays and weekends. Also, go to bed at the same time each night and set an alarm so you’ll wake up at the same time every morning.
Making sure that it is dark enough in your room before you go to bed will also help your internal clock. Additionally, opening your windows and making sure that your room is bright enough awakens your body. If natural light is not available because of the winter season, use electrical lights instead.
Keep active and eat a balanced diet
During winter, our inside time usually far outweighs our outside time. But it should not stop us from exercising daily. There are activities that you can do at home or indoors that can keep you active.
Eating a balanced diet also helps manage SAD. Winter can make us crave sweets and carbohydrates. As a result, we feel more tired and sluggish. Giving in a little is okay as long as you will incorporate it with a healthier choice of food. Try consuming foods and beverages that are rich in vitamin D such as egg yolks, fish, cereals, milk, and orange juice.
Consider Vitamin D Supplements
Proper diet and sunlight are still the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. It is easy during the sunny season but during winter months, many find it difficult to get more exposure to sunlight. To avoid having vitamin d deficiency, taking vitamin D supplements may help.
Cannabinoids such as CBD and CBG
CBD has the potential to make you feel calm and balanced, while CBG is known to provide mental clarity and helps with focus. Additionally, a 2022 study focused on CBD and depression focused on cannabinoids intake and improvement of well-being showing positive results.
Stay connected with family and friends
Our mental health is more resilient when we stay connected to our family and friends. Although seasonal changes can make it difficult for us to be with them physically, there are different ways to stay in touch with them. Technology allows us to stay connected with the people we care for.
Some may suffer in silence because not everyone is fully aware that those “winter blues” are full-blown SAD symptoms. Understanding its causes, symptoms, possible treatments, and how to get through seasonal depression is important to continue living life to its fullest.