Do you dread the winter months? Other than those beautiful moments of quiet snowfall, there isn’t much to like about it. It’s dark, plants are dormant and dead looking, you feel tired more, and you have to start your car in the morning so maybe it will be warm by the time you get to work… The list can go on and on. But there are some people who are affected by these winter months more than others.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that follows the seasons. The most common type of SAD occurs during winter months; however, it can also occur during the summer. The winter depression typically begins in late fall when the amount of daylight begins to decrease and may last until late spring.
Who is affected?
The majority of SAD sufferers are women and the age of onset is between the ages of 18 and 30. People who suffer from another mental illness, have a close relative with a mental illness, or those who have substance use disorder are more likely to suffer from SAD.
Similar to other types of depression, symptoms of SAD vary from person to person, but the main symptoms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Hypersomnia or a tendency to oversleep
- A change in appetite
- Weight gain
- A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- A drop in energy level
- Decreased physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Avoidance of social situations
- Thoughts of suicide
Symptoms of SAD tend to reoccur at about the same time every year. It is important to remember that SAD affects everyone differently. Most cases are mild or moderate, but some people experience more severe symptoms that require hospitalization.
Although the cause of SAD is unknown, there is a theory related to the amount of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, in the body. The long nights of winter means increased melatonin is released into the body which causes a drop in body temperature and is associated with sleep.
What You Can Do
Self-care is important before, during, and after the winter months to help stave the symptoms of SAD. Here are a few ideas for self-care:
- Monitor mood/energy level
- Take advantage of sunlight whenever possible
- Rearrange home and office furniture to maximize sun exposure
- Make hobbies a priority during winter months
- Maintain regular physical activity
- Approach winter with a positive attitude
- If/when symptoms do develop seek help sooner rather than later
When Should You Seek Help
Most people can get through the winter months using self-care techniques; however, if any of the symptoms begin to affect your quality of life, it is time to seek treatment. Horizons’ caring and trained team of clinicians is available if professional help is needed. Sometimes just a few visits are all that is needed to learn to manage symptoms.