For many parts of the world, winter is a very dreary time of year. It’s often cloudy, snowy, or rainy, combined with cold temperatures that can chill you to your bones. The days are shorter, so it’s dark when you wake up in the morning and dark before you go to bed at night. These conditions can wear on anyone. But for those people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter can be even more difficult and overwhelming.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also appropriately referred to as SAD, occurs when a person experiences depression due to the changing seasons. While it is primarily associated with winter, due to the reasons above, it can also affect people during other seasons as well.
Because it is a type of depression, the symptoms of it are the same as other types of depression:
- Feelings of sadness almost every day
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Low energy
- Disinterest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While it can be difficult to pinpoint a given cause of such a depression, doctors have discovered that people with SAD often produce less Vitamin D, which is created by your body during exposure to natural sunlight. As individuals spend more time indoors during the colder months and miss out on daytime sunlight, SAD can begin to set in.
Also, individuals who have SAD may have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitters that adjust mood. They may produce more serotonin and more melatonin, making them tired and affecting their circadian rhythms, which regulate their sleep cycle.
How Can You Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As there is no one cause associated with SAD, there is no one cure to the depression. Instead, it is a combination of factors that may help a person feel better during this season.
The first step in fighting depression of any kind is to seek help. Talk to your doctor, find a therapist, or get counseling. Having an expert by your side helps you realize that you’re not alone in this battle. They have the knowledge and the resources to help get you on the path to feeling better.
Because this is a type of depression, your physician may recommend taking medication to help your body manage its production of neurotransmitters and adjust your mood. As with any medication, ask your doctor about side effects and how it may interact with any other medications you are currently taking.
Get Your Vitamin D
Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D does not occur naturally in many foods. It is most often produced when the body reacts to exposure to sunlight. Because of this, it can be challenging to make sure you get the necessary Vitamin D during the winter months. If you can’t get outside, consider consuming the following:
- Cod liver oil
- Tuna fish
- Fortified milk
- Fortified orange juice
Get Your Sunshine
Sunlight is a main driver for Vitamin D production in your body. The National Institutes of Health reports that some researchers believe that spending 5-30 minutes of sun exposure at least two times a week can produce sufficient Vitamin D for your body. Unfortunately, because the necessary radiation does not penetrate glass, sitting inside by a window does not help. It’s best to be outdoors between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm, without sunscreen. Plan this time to take a walk, do some gardening, or get some exercise.
Get a Sun Lamp
If getting outside to get sunshine is not an option, consider trying light therapy. By being exposed to a bright light made to simulate the sun, you may alleviate your symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to your doctor about this option, as they may recommend a certain type of light and a certain amount of time for you to be exposed to it each day.
Know That You’re Not Alone
Dr. Normal Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School has studied cyclical mood patterns for most of his career. He reports that about 6% of the US population experiences Season Affective Disorder in its most marked form, and another 14% suffers from the winter blues. This means that during the winter months, about 1 in 5 Americans is experiencing some form of depression due to the change in season.
If you are feeling sad or depressed – related to the change in seasons or for any other reason – take a step and seek help. It could just make this winter a little better than the last.