How can you determine if your winter blues are a transitory phase or a more serious condition? Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression produced by changing seasons.
Winter isn’t feared by everyone (hello, ice skaters and ski bums!). Nonetheless, life slows down during the chilly months. As the days become shorter and the light grows scarcer, many seek refuge from the elements. We curl up in front of the TV or beneath the covers to stay warm—the human equivalent of hibernating. Some folks enjoy the solitude, comfort, and snow days of the season. Nevertheless, if you avoid being outside and find yourself growing more grouchy or irritated when it’s sunnier on the other side of the earth, you may question whether it’s more than simply a passing seasonal slump. More specifically, you may wonder: Do I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What Is It?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that manifests itself at specific seasons of the year. The majority of people detect SAD symptoms beginning in November and rising over the winter months until March (the cold weather months in the northern hemisphere). However, there is a spring/summer variant of the illness as well (known as reverse SAD).
You may have the seasonal affective disorder if you notice changes in your sleep patterns, energy level/productivity, and a chronic bad mood. To be officially diagnosed with SAD, you must have had at least two years of depression with a seasonal pattern or bouts of depression that begin at a specific time of year and completely resolve at other times of the year.
What Are the Most Common SAD Symptoms?
Because SAD is a subtype of major or clinical depression rather than a distinct mental health illness, any depression sign is likewise a SAD symptom.
Nonetheless, certain symptoms are more common in those with wintertime SAD, such as:
- Low energy
- Appetite stimulation
- Desire for carbs
- Increase in weight
The less prevalent summer version of SAD (reverse SAD) may be more prone to trigger symptoms such as:
- a poor appetite
- Weight reduction
- Incidents of violent conduct
Some typical symptoms of both major depressive disorder and SAD include:
- negative mood
- Emotions of hopelessness
- Depleted energy levels
- Having trouble concentrating
- alterations in sleep and hunger
- A decline in the enjoyment of activities
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder? (Self-Assessment)
When the evenings become darker, the weather may alter your mood and sleep patterns. Take our test to determine if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Does SAD Differ From Other Depressive Disorders?
Simply described, it is a sort of seasonal recurring serious depression. SAD patients have depressed episodes at a specific season, most commonly during the winter months.
If you suffer from SAD, your symptoms should improve as the seasons change and the sun returns. If you notice this changeover occurring on a yearly basis, you may be diagnosed with SAD. 2 Of course, the degree of symptoms varies. The winter blues are a milder variant of SAD (see “Is It SAD or The Winter Blues?” for more information).
If you have SAD, it could be because your body has difficulties regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is thought to be crucial for mood regulation (lower serotonin levels have been linked to depression in some studies). Vitamin D, which is created by the sun and is contained in various foods, aids in the activation of serotonin. The belief is that less exposure to sunshine during the winter months results in less vitamin D generation.
Another possibility is an overproduction problem. Darkness (both indoors and outdoors) tells the body to create melatonin, the sleep hormone. The more melatonin your body produces, the more sleepy and tired you get.
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a type of depression that includes both highs (mania) and lows (depression). Symptoms in both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder can have seasonal triggers which may explain why up to 20% of people who are clinically depressed and around 20% of persons with bipolar disorder also experience SAD.
SAD frequently co-occurs with other diseases such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcoholism/addiction, and eating disorders, and as a result, it is likely to be underdiagnosed. Treatments for each ailment can differ, so it’s critical to acquire an appropriate diagnosis.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD, like other types of depression, is a complicated disorder caused by a variety of variables, including your environment and genetics. What exactly happens in the body to cause SAD is unknown, but the basic hypothesis is that seasonal variations might disturb the body’s circadian clock, impacting sleep, mood, and hormone control.
Those who live farther from the equator see a bigger variation in the quantity of daylight between the summer and the winter, which contributes to SAD (summer days are long, while winter days are short). The change in sunshine hours from summer to winter might throw your biological clock off.
The biological clock in our bodies informs us when to wake up and when to sleep. It also helps to regulate numerous chemicals and hormones that affect sleep, emotions, and other things.
Our biological clocks rely on light to function normally—when it’s light outside, the body is supposed to be awake, and when it goes dark, it’s time to sleep. Winter’s shorter sunshine hours can throw this rhythm off. ⁸
Disruption of the body’s biological clock can set off a cascade of negative reactions in the body that may contribute to SAD, including:
- A chemical imbalance in the brain, such as serotonin. Changes in how the brain makes and uses serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control your mood, are thought to be linked to all types of depression. That is why many commonly used antidepressant drugs function by boosting the amount of serotonin accessible for usage by the brain. Seasonal variations may cause serotonin abnormalities in SAD patients.
- Melatonin synthesis in the body changes. In response to darkness, the body creates melatonin, a hormone that governs sleep. Light exposure normally suppresses melatonin release from the pineal gland. Winter’s shorter daylight hours may cause symptoms such as weariness and oversleeping due to melatonin fluctuations. ²
- Inadequate vitamin D intake. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight. The sun provides the majority of the vitamin D that humans require. Vitamin D levels may fall over the winter as the days become shorter. Individuals suffering from SAD are more prone to have low vitamin D levels. Lower levels of vitamin D have also been linked to possible reduced mood and energy, although larger trials are needed to demonstrate that vitamin D can be used as an antidepressant. ²
Individuals who dislike the cold air and overcast, windy days of winter should be aware that research indicates that SAD is unrelated to temperature, snowfall, or cloud cover.
SAD Treatment Options
Living with SAD can be challenging, but there are things you can do to help yourself.
- Light, especially natural light, can have a profound effect on your mood. If feasible, spend some time outdoors every day, and keep your curtains open as much as possible. Avoid sitting in dark or dimly light rooms. Use lighting and mirrors to illuminate extremely dark areas.
- Some individuals find it useful to utilize a lightbox, which is a customized bulb that simulates natural light. Consult your physician before using one, especially if you have eye or skin conditions.
- Physical activity and time spent in green places are beneficial for everyone’s mental health. Physical activity can improve your self-esteem, concentration, and sleep, and make you feel better overall.
- Prepare for harsh times. For instance, if you know you won’t have the energy to cook, you may freeze meals or ensure you have time to relax or go to bed early.
- Changing your perspective on winter may prove beneficial. According to research, reframing how we see stressful events can significantly improve our ability to cope with them. Consider the things you appreciate about winter, such as cooking comfort food, huddling under a blanket, wandering through crunchy leaves, and visiting Christmas markets.
In conclusion, SAD is a treatable and tolerable disorder that affects a large number of people. Individuals can successfully control their symptoms and enhance their overall well-being with correct diagnosis and treatment, allowing them to live healthy and productive lives. Contact a doctor or a mental health expert if you continue to deal with mental problems such as SAD, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.