For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it's quite natural to have lower energy levels at this time of year. The days are shorter, the weather is colder for many people and generally it feels like the time of year to hunker down rather than to be out and about.
For a significant number of people however, the winter months bring on much more than a bit of a dip in mood and energy levels. This is the time of year when Seasonal Affective Disorder fully takes hold, affecting about 5% of the US population according to Mental Health America - a staggering 80% of whom are women.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a form of depression that happens every year at around the same time, typically in late fall and early winter (though far less common, spring/summer SAD does also exist).
December is Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month, so we're taking a look at the common symptoms of this condition and how you can get help if you think you are affected.
- Mental Health America lists a number of symptoms that afflict SAD sufferers:
- Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, diminished interest in activities, despair and apathy
- Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
- Mood changes: extremes of mood, and in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
- Lethargy: feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
- Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
- Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Sexual problems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact
Causes of SAD
Although the causes of SAD aren't fully known, the National Institute of Mental Health says that research has uncovered some biological clues:
- People with SAD may have trouble regulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in mood.
- People with SAD may overproduce melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates sleep.
- People with SAD may produce less Vitamin D, which may be associated with depression symptoms.
What Can I Do?
If you believe you are suffering from SAD, it is important to speak to your primary care physician. They will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and recommend suitable treatment, which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health may include Light Therapy (Phototherapy), medications, psychotherapy and Vitamin D.
The Mayo Clinic also has some suggestions for lifestyle or home changes that may help your symptoms. These include:
- Making your environment brighter by opening blinds, sitting closer to windows and removing obstacles such as tree branches that block the sun.
- Getting outside - even on a cold or cloudy day - and especially within two hours of getting up in the morning.
- Exercising regularly, which can help relieve stress and anxiety and also boost your mood.
- Mind-body techniques such as tai chi, yoga, meditation can help you re-set.
- Guided imagery and music or art therapy may also relieve symptoms.
SAD is a form of depression that can leave sufferers trying to cope with difficult symptoms for a number of months each year. If you are suffering, please do seek help. You are not alone and there is help available.
Wishing you good health this season.