Well everyone, the change of the seasons has begun. We can all feel that slight chill that's in the air as we play the familiar game of finding the crunchiest leaf. For many this is a time of excitement for the snow days and holidays to come, but for some this time comes with an added struggle that makes this season anything but joyful. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a subset of major depression that hits people specifically during the change of the seasons. It can be very debilitating and disruptive in your life similarly to regular depression. Today we are going to talk more about what this disorder is and how you can prepare yourself to deal with it as we transition through the seasons.
According to the National Institute of Health the official definition of SAD or seasonal affective disorder is when you “notice significant changes in your mood and behavior whenever the seasons change.” Now these aren’t just the regular mood changes that we all experience daily. These are intense feelings that can greatly impact how you think and behave normally. This disorder occurs more often when the season changes from fall to winter with a majority reporting experiencing changes in the early winter that last until mid spring. That being said, it is still possible to experience SAD when the seasons are changing from winter to summer as well. Some common symptoms af SAD in the winter are feeling low energy or extremely sluggish, oversleeping and weight gain along with the regular symptoms that go along with depression. Interestingly enough for Summer SAD the symptoms are the exact opposite with people reporting feelings of weight loss, increased anxiety, insomnia and poor appetite.
But what causes this disorder? While the cause isn’t 100% certain there is strong evidence that lack of sun exposure is a big factor. We’re similar to plants in the way that we get vital nutrients from the sun. Testing they has found that people with SAD experience intense changes in neurotransmitters which are the chemicals in our brains that regulate our mood. Specifically they see changes in serotonin which is what regulates our feelings of anxiety and makes us feel happy. They also noted changes in melatonin levels and to circadian rhythms. Due to the fact that in the winter people tend to stay inside longer and the sun is out for less time this leads to biological changes that cause people to develop SAD. Our need for sunlight is something that we don’t think about often. The sun provides us with vitamins that we need to be happy and healthy, so it makes sense that going a longer period with a decrease in the amount of sunlight would affect us. Don’t worry though there are ways to keep the winter SAD at bay.
One very important thing you can do is to stick to a routine. Because of the sluggish feelings you get when going through SAD it can make it hard to keep taking care of yourself, but if you already have a routine in place this alleviates some of that stress. Another beneficial thing is to take vitamin D to make up for the amount that we lack during the winter months. It's also important to try and stay active. Thanks to COVID we now have a plethora of ways to workout and stay active at home so maybe now is the time to dust off those dumbbells and get back at it. Additionally, it’s also good to stay social. Don’t be afraid to lean on your friends and maybe schedule some more time with them. In extreme cases you can even try medications or light therapy where you expose yourself to intense LED lights to simulate sun uv rays.
The biggest thing to keep in mind during this time is to remember that this time will pass. When you’re suffering with SAD, or just depression in general, it tends to cloud your judgement and make you believe that nothing will ever be better than it is right now, but that isn’t true. As the popular saying goes “this too shall pass”. If you are someone who is dealing with SAD right now try to keep this in mind and hang in there. The winter will be over before you know it.
By: Kiara Haynes