When the weather starts to turn from summer to fall and fall to winter, many people are pleased. Many people bear the hot weather just to get to cooler temperatures and winter holidays. But that isn’t the case for everyone. Some people find that while they were cheery and bright in the summer, depression takes over in the winter.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a tough challenge that many deal with. It is often thought of as the winter blues, but it is common enough that many people who manage SAD aren’t even aware they have it.
For anyone who has dealt with depression, you know the despair that can take over. The feeling that your mouth no longer remembers how to smile and the pit in your stomach that may never go away. But for people who deal with SAD, this feeling tends to take over as the weather turns. So the once happy person you knew in the warmer months changes into someone they don’t even recognize in the winter.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression within Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you suffer from any of these symptoms on a cyclical basis, you will want to contact your doctor. You are not alone and there are things that can be done to help. The NIH lists the following as symptoms of depression that you should be familiar with:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having problems with sleep
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
**If you are suffering from severe depression or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255**
SAD can be just as much a challenge for the loved ones of the person affected as for the person themselves. The most important thing that one can do (in addition to consulting your doctor) is learn about SAD. When we know more, we feel more in-control. Here are a few things that you may not know about seasonal depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Affects More Women Than Men
SAD affects approximately 5% of the population, and significantly more women than men. That means that 1 out of 20 people suffer from SAD and 4 out of 5 of them are women.
According to research, women are more susceptible to the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and are the most prevalent sufferers. People younger than 20 don’t typically experience symptoms, with the main group of those affected being between 20 and 55 years old. The likelihood of developing the disorder decreases with age.
The fact that more women suffer with SAD is culturally significant. Women have a tendency to bottle up sadness, anger, and stress, so diagnosis can be difficult unless we are being honest. If you are honest with no one else about your feelings, please try to be honest with your medical health professionals.
There is no shame in having a mental health issue! It is the same as having diabetes or psoriasis. You didn’t ask for this, but it is your responsibility to be honest, see your doctor, lean on the support people in your life, and do what you can to treat it.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Mostly Related to Light – And is Treatable
There are rumors that seasonal depression is related to the temperature in the area in which you might live, but it mostly has to do with the lack of sunlight. Certain areas of the world (most specifically the northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere and southern regions of the Southern Hemisphere) have less exposure to the sun as the seasons change. This lack of sunlight leads to a discombobulation of seratonin and melatonin in some people, which can lead to suffering from SAD.
Luckily for those of us who have the benefits of modern medicine, there is significant treatment available. Be sure to consult your doctor for specific therapies and medication, but the availability of light therapy has changed life for many. Additional exposure to (extremely affordable) light therapy boxes can make significant improvements for those who suffer from SAD. This allows for replicated sunlight to replace some of what has been lost by the natural cycle of the planet.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Make You Sicker
The lack of sunlight that causes seasonal affective disorder also causes your immune system to be weaker. This means that while dealing with the normal symptoms of SAD you may be developing lots of colds, stomach viruses and other sicknesses that naturally circulate in the colder months.
Because those who have SAD do have a weakened immune system, there are preventative measures that should be looked into. Be sure to get lots of rest and eat a balanced diet in order to keep your body as healthy as possible. Exercise as you can (this can be difficult while dealing with SAD, but try), wash your hands regularly and get your flu shot at the beginning of flu season. These measures won’t completely prevent you from getting sick, but they will provide some protection for an already weakened body.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Doesn’t Just Happen in the Fall and Winter
Although it is most commonly seen in the fall and winter, seasonal depression can happen in any season. Many people experience similar symptoms of fall/winter SAD, just during the spring/summer months instead. Symptoms are often the reverse (i.e. instead of over-sleeping, one might experience insomnia), but symptoms can also be exactly the same.
Regardless of when you experience any kind of cyclical depression, it is important to reach out to your doctor. There are treatments available and people to help.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Cause Carb Cravings
When we get down or depressed, it is natural to crave carbohydrates. Eating carbs gives us a natural happiness boost, which would be logical to hunt for if you need help with your mood. When you have seasonal depression though, you may find that you are only craving carbs heavily in the fall and winter.
There is a difference between major depressive disorder and seasonal depression, so carb cravings can actually assist in the diagnosis. Do you crave carbs, sugars or pasta heavily in the fall and winter, but not in the spring and summer months? Do you crave carbs all year round to help your mood? While it isn’t the ultimate answer to a diagnosis, it is an indicator which could assist your doctor in helping you properly. Make sure to share this information when them.
Managing seasonal affective disorder can be challenging, but learning as much as you can means that you can help yourself and others around you. If you are having trouble with seasonal depression – or suspect that you might be – talk to a professional for additional help. There are treatments available, and hopefully they will be able to help you.