For most of the United State and Canada winter is a desolate, gray time of year that drags on for months. It’s cold, snowy, rainy, and just plain gloomy. Many people get depressed this time of year. They get SAD.
SAD, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a kind of depression brought on during the dark time of the year, usually starting in fall and ending in spring.
According to the Mayo Clinic website the symptoms of SAD are:
- Loss of energy
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
For someone already suffering from other forms of depression (such as clinical depression or bipolar) it can be hard to tell the difference. Usually someone with depression will feel an increase in their apathy and energy. This makes the long winters even harder to deal with, especially around the holidays.
The causes of SAD aren’t exactly known. There’s a theory that the lack of sunlight causes an imbalance in the chemistry of the body and brain. Melatonin (a hormone related to sleep) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) can be affected by lack of sunshine. Circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) can also be altered by the early sunset and long nights.
Those more at risk are, obviously, people already depressed or susceptible due to personal or family history of depression. The main thing to remember is not to shrug off seasonal affective disorder. It’s a serious mental illness.
Talking to a doctor is a good first step in finding a treatment right for you. Medications for depression can be an option but there are some simple remedies to try.
The biggest thing is to try to get outside any time it is sunny. I know this can be especially difficult in the northern states and almost impossible the farther north you get. If the gloom of winter sticks around for too long try some new lights. There are special SAD lamps sold that mimic the rays of a sun that can help with symptoms for some people. They are costly and only meant to be used for 15-20 minutes a day.
Another simple solution that can help alleviate some of the depression is to buy “daylight” style CFL lights. They don’t pack the lumens (the measurement of light output) a SAD light would but putting some 100w equivalent bulbs in the room where you spend most of your time can really help. Make sure the temperature is “daylight” or “blue.” This gives off a bright, crisp light, more like being out in the sunshine. It’s only a little thing but it can really boost your mood when you are stuck indoors for extended periods of time.
SAD can be a frustrating, sometimes life-threatening, illness but luckily it usually only lasts for nine months. Okay, so maybe that isn’t so great. If you think you are suffering from SAD talk to your doctor.