Winter blues, winter funk, seasonal affective disorder – it is known by many names. But no matter what you call it, it goes without saying that seasonal affective disorder is aptly abbreviated to SAD. It is one of the most common types of depression. Do you think you have seasonal affective disorder? From SAD symptoms to treatment, here is everything you need to know.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Explained
SAD or seasonal affective disorder is a kind of depression that occurs around the same time each year. While it can affect you in spring or summer, it is more common to start from late fall and continue through to the end of winter.
Seasonal depression can leave you feeling drained, amplify your carb cravings, and cause you to feel moody or sad for months. Maybe you feel like you could be at risk – if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, you might want to do something about it. Consider seeking the guidance of a specialist – Air Doctor can connect you with a medical professional in your area.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The real cause of SAD is unknown. Many experts believe that the answer could be too little sunlight. Less sunlight exposure and shorter days are seen as being linked to a chemical change in the brain and may be part of the reason for SAD.
There is also some evidence that SAD could be linked to the body’s melatonin levels, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The body generates melatonin when it’s dark, so when the days are shorter and it stays darker for longer, your body makes more melatonin.
When Does SAD Usually Start?
Typically, symptoms of seasonal depression first appear during adulthood – the risk of which increases with age – making it highly unusual in people under the age of 20. Women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men.
In fact, women between the ages of 18-45, with a history of depression are at high risk of SAD. 80% of people suffering from seasonal depression are women who began experiencing symptoms during their child-bearing years. A family history of depression also increases your chances of being affected by SAD.
SAD symptoms usually start late fall or early winter and go away during warmer, sunnier days in spring and summer. Although less heard of, the reverse is also possible, with symptoms starting in spring or summer. In both cases, symptoms start out mild and increase in severity as the season progresses. So, what are the symptoms & warning signs of seasonal affective disorder?
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
SAD Warning Signs
According to Psychology Today, seasonal depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans, with another 10-20% considered to have mild SAD. Called the “winter blues” for a reason, people living in colder regions are more susceptible to SAD. Since experts think that seasonal depression could be brought on by shorter days and less sunlight exposure, these temporal changes may cause a hormonal imbalance that makes you feel depressed.
Carbo Loading Cravings
So, your carb cravings are out of control during the colder months? Eating more carbs when the weather is colder is common in people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to researchers, the connection between carb cravings and seasonal depression happens because you might be feeling more sluggish due to temporal changes and the shorter days. As such, “carbo-loading” is your body’s natural reaction to increasing your energy levels. When you eat carbs, your body produces serotonin, which is the same “feel good” hormone that antidepressants boost.
Hibernation Mode: ON
Do you sometimes wish you were a hibernating creature? Those who suffer from seasonal depression might feel more tired than usual during colder months. In contrast, others might face difficulty sleeping – ultimately causing fatigue. If you have seasonal affective disorder, you may have problems sleeping.
Also, people who suffer from seasonal depression are more likely to have nightmares. One study revealed that 16% of participants with SAD had frequent nightmares when compared with 2.4% of participants who don’t have SAD. Understandably these disturbances to one’s sleep may also contribute to the mood swings associated with seasonal depression.
DST For The Win
No, it’s not a drug. Daylight Savings Time (DST), anyone? So, you feel like a fog lifts when it’s time to set your clock ahead? This might be a clear indication that you suffer from seasonal depression. Ask yourself whether this happens every year? Like clockwork? That’s an unmistakable sign that you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Can You Have Seasonal And Regular Depression?
Current diagnostic guidelines for mental health do not list seasonal affective disorder as a standalone mood disorder. Instead, it’s outlined as a subset of depression with a seasonal pattern in which someone experiences fluctuating symptoms of a depressive disorder. This means when differentiating between depression or seasonal depression diagnosis, it all comes down to timing. In fact, the signs for both are similar or even identical.
If you suffer from major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, you may experience common symptoms like depressed mood, weight gain, excessive sleep or drowsiness, and a loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed. Additionally, you might feel hopeless and even suicidal during the fall and winter months compared to the rest of the year.
To be diagnosed with seasonal depression, someone needs to experience:
- at least two years of symptoms that are worsened during a specific time of the year.
- the seasonal depressive episodes must significantly outweigh the non-seasonal episodes.
Treatment for SAD
Most commonly prescribed treatments for someone with depression – whether seasonal or not – include therapy and the use of antidepressant medications. However, light therapy and dietary supplements can make a significant difference to people suffering from seasonal depression.
Vitamin D and melatonin supplements might help offer better quality sleep, improve your mood, and boost your immunity. While getting more sunlight is not always as simple as going outside – for obvious reasons – light therapy might be worth a try. You might consider investing in a lightbox – a light therapy box imitates outdoor light. Experts believe this kind of light causes a chemical shift in the brain that lifts your mood and eases symptoms of seasonal depression. Generally, the lightbox should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light and emit as little UV light as possible.
The most important thing is that you don’t ignore your symptoms. Especially if they are hindering your day-to-day functions for months at a time, a Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosis can only be made by a medical professional.