|Seasonal Affective Disorder: Addressing the Winter Blues
Wintertime seems to never end. For most of us, recreational pursuits become limited, energy levels may decrease, diets and sleep patterns change, and overall, there is a decrease in activity level. To a degree, this is normal. For others, winter time becomes more challenging. These individuals may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a depressive disorder that affects someone during the same season each year. A majority of the time this is a winter time illness, although in some rare cases, people experience it during the summer time. People experiencing SAD generally fit this profile: living in regions where winter day light is shorter, family history of SAD or other depressive disorders, ages 15-55(people of all ages still get suffer from this), and woman(they are four times more likely to experience this than men). The older you get, the less likely you will experience SAD. There is no known cause of it, but some experts believe the change in sunlight disrupts our sleep-wake cycle. It could also impact on our serotonin levels in our brain, which in turn may cause depressive symptoms.
The warning signs of SAD are:
- Feel sad, grumpy, irritable, moody or anxious
- Increase sleep, feeling fatigue
- Increase of appetite (eat or crave carbohydrates), weight gain
- Decrease of activity
- Social withdrawal
- Increase of worry or anxiety
- Loss of concentration
A person who experiences SAD usually sees an improvement in symptoms in April or May, although in some cases it goes on longer. The symptoms first appear in late autumn. If a pattern has emerged (at least two years in a row) there is likelihood you may have SAD.
SAD symptoms can be treated by:
- Maintaining consistent and healthy sleep patterns
- Focusing on a diet, avoid binge eating, shop healthy.. bringing unhealthy foods into the house increases the chances of unhealthy eating.
- Exercise, even 25 minutes a day could help. Set up a realistic plan(time and location) that works best for you.
- Increasing social activities
- Solidify support systems
- Avoid negative or self defeating thinking. If you journal your thoughts, this offers better opportunity to monitor non productive thoughts
- Volunteer your time.
- Light therapy (see enclosed article)
If these interventions do not help, it is important to seek out professional help. The first stop may be a doctor to get a physical and rule out any medical condition. If a doctor prescribes medication, that could be one route to go. If you seek out a therapist, he or she could provide additional support and guidance in addressing symptoms.