It seems that by February of every year, everyone is down in the dumps. It’s become so predictable that I dread the month like the plague. It’s cold, it’s grey, and it’s miserable outside. The days may be starting to get longer, but they’re not quite long enough to enjoy the sunlight after work. And even though I’m sure all of you whose birthdays fall in February may disagree, there’s just not much to look forward to all month.
However, if you find that you’re consistently feeling like there’s a river of slime flowing under your home that’s making you feel miserable and angry (that’s right, I’m looking at you Ghostbusters 2), there may actually be a reason for it: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a mild-to-moderate depression that only occurs at one particular time of year, typically winter. I’ll admit that for years I’d scoff at the notion that my mood could be affected by the changing seasons. It wasn’t until recently, when I was talking to some friends about how much I detest the month of February, that I began to realize that I feel this way every year. Then, the light bulb burned bright above my head as I realized that – duh! – my annual emotional plummet must be tied to SAD.
What causes SAD?
According to KidsHealth.org, this particular depression is thought to stem from a reaction in the brain caused by a decrease in exposure to daylight. Many experts believe that fluctuating levels of melatonin and serotonin – two chemicals found in the brain that help regulate sleep-wake cycles, energy and mood – cause SAD.
Melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, is more abundant in the winter months, causing many to feel more lethargic. Serotonin levels are tied to exposure to sunlight and therefore drop in the winter months. Since serotonin is tied to mood, this decrease, along with the increase in melatonin, can create the perfect storm for seasonal depression.
Wondering if SAD may be the cause of your blues? According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, signs of SAD usually sprout up during the teen years and into adulthood. If you live in a region with longer winter nights, you’re more likely to suffer from it, though rare cases of this disorder have been found during the summer months.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
So, how exactly do you know if what you’re feeling can be attributed to SAD? Well, there are several indicators that you can use as a guide. Symptoms include:
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Increased appetite with weight gain
- Increased sleep
- Less energy and difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in work and other activities
- Social withdrawal
- General unhappiness and irritability
While weight loss and insomnia are common with other forms of depression, SAD tends to exhibit the opposite behavior.
How do I treat SAD?
The first thing to do is to speak with your doctor about your symptoms. Your health care provider can help you determine your diagnosis and rule out any other potential health issues. Once you’ve established that you have SAD, here are some ways you can manage your symptoms at home:
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise more often
- Talk with those closest to you about your feelings
- Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs, as they can make depression worse over time
- Consider light therapy
- Some doctors may prescribe anti-depressants if appropriate
Even without treatment, symptoms of SAD usually go away with the change of seasons, but it’s always a good idea to seek medical advice when you’re not feeling 100%.
Do you suffer from SAD and have any advice or tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!