With Thanksgiving and Black Friday, we really are in the winter season. Some of us welcome winter as a time to enjoy vacation, skiing, and snuggling on the sofa to watch cheesy Hallmark films. But others feel that the “blue” days, which usually only occur a few times a month, are starting to pile up.
It is normal for your mood to be a little different in winter than in summer. Colder weather isn’t for everyone, and waking up in the dark just to get home from work in the dark can take its toll. But the expectation that “everyone will get a winter lull” can lead people to ignore the symptoms of a more serious problem: seasonal affective disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, as it is aptly known) is a mood disorder that is related to changes in the seasons. It is actually possible to experience it in spring or summer, but we mostly associate SAD with winter.
It is believed that SAD is caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) triggered by the change in season. Current theories associate SAD with changes in light, which can also affect your daily rhythm. What we do know is that roughly 20% of Americans experience it.
It seems like women are more likely to have SAD than men for some obscure reason, but women in general are also at higher risk for depression. Women are also slightly more likely to have bipolar II – anyone who has bipolar disorder can have SAD-induced mania or hypomania and should be particularly aware of this. But which symptoms do you have to pay close attention to?
What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
SAD is a form of depression; It differs from typical depression that it happens specifically and reliably with the change of the season. However, the symptoms are essentially the same.
When you have seasonal affective disorder, you feel down and lose interest or enjoyment in things that you used to love. You will also have trouble concentrating and noticing changes in your energy levels, appetite, and sleep schedule.
(Generally, people eat more, sleep in it, and want to lie down, even if they can’t really make an effort or can’t really fall asleep.) They may also have lower self-esteem or thoughts of suicide
Do I have to wait for spring to feel better?
For all depressive episodes, speak to a family doctor or mental health professional if it lasts two weeks or more.
SAD can range from mild to severe, but even if you don’t have extreme symptoms like suicidal thoughts, it can affect your life drastically. You may find that this is affecting your work or academic performance, or you may have problems with loved ones in your life. But there is help available.
If you have SAD, your doctor can help you create a treatment plan, starting a few weeks before the season change, so that you don’t go blind again. This can include medication or light therapy. Other strategies, such as regular exercise, meditation, or journaling, can help with the stressful aspects of SAD, but they are not a magical cure for major depressive symptoms.
Realizing that you may have SAD (or a depressive disorder, such as depression) can be scary postpartum depression or Premenstrual dysphoric disorder). But you know two things: First, you are not alone. Second, anything stopping you from living a happy, functional life is worth talking to someone about it and looking for solutions.