For some, the onset of winter can be dreadful. The darker months and dreary weather do generally cause us to tend towards inactivity, but feeling stuck in a state of depression isn’t normal. Do cloudy skies, little sunlight, and unpleasant weather seem to take a toll on your mood? If so, you may be suffering from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depressive disorder characterized by a seasonal pattern of depression that only occurs during certain times of the year. This disorder is a form of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and patients with SAD can experience depressive symptoms that are equally grim and crippling. Though it is more commonly triggered by fall and winter seasons, SAD can be provoked by the onset of spring and summer weather as well. Studies have suggested that there is a link between low vitamin D levels and various mood disorders. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s especially tough to get good exposure to vitamin D during the dismal months, even on a sunny day. We recommend seeing your primary care physician or talking to Cara Chapman, our board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.
Who gets Seasonal Depression?
SAD affects six percent of the US population, and it is approximated that another 14 percent of all adults in America suffer from less severe seasonal mood alterations often referred to as “winter blues.” Due to various biological, psychological, and social factors (e.g. hormone distribution, body image issues, coping skills, etc.), women are more prone to depression than men. With specific regard to this disorder, women are four times more likely to be affected. Additionally, it is considered uncommon for individuals under the age of 20 to exhibit symptoms, and the likelihood that you’ll develop the disorder decreases as you age.
Am I feeling SAD?
As winter approaches and the long, bright summer days slowly shrink and become darker, those with Seasonal Affective Disorder begin to exhibit a set of symptoms that are very similar to those of Major Depressive Disorder:
- Increased appetite, coupled with weight gain
- Lethargy (lack of energy, sluggishness)
- Increased sleep
- Loss of interest in work or hobbies
- Social withdrawal
- When you’re depressed, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do the things that you enjoy doing. Unfortunately, this cultivates a downward spiral that just leads to you feeling even unhappier.
How can I Overcome the Winter Blues?
There are a number of different treatment options available to individuals struggling with SAD, and the most successful treatments incorporate therapy as a key part of the healing process. In conjunction with therapy, many SAD sufferers benefit from exposure to light therapy, and some see results with the help of medication. Light therapy is especially effective for individuals with SAD because the high-intensity lights reproduce the rejuvenating effect of the sun’s natural rays.
Negative thoughts and feelings needn’t dominate your life – we all deserve to feel happy, healthy, and in control of our lives. If you think you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, we invite you to set up an appointment today to begin working with one of our wonderful therapists to breathe optimism and enthusiasm back into your life.