There are many things to love and hate about every season, particularly if you live in a part of the country where you truly experience all four seasons, but winter can tough on millions of Americans. Whether it’s the cold temperatures, the shorter daylight hours, or a combination of both, the season can leave a lot of people feeling bummed out. How do you know if you are suffering from post-holiday blues, cabin fever, or something more serious like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a type of depression that’s related to the changes in the seasons and for most individuals it begins and ends at the same time each year. While SAD typically starts in October and ends in April, some individuals feel the symptoms in spring and summer. A lot of people assume that low energy, moodiness, and trouble getting out of bed just goes hand in hand with winter, however if you feel the same symptoms around the same time of year, for consecutive years, you may struggle with SAD.
The farther you live from the equator, the greater the chance of feeling some level of winter depression. This is due to the lack of sunlight which causes your brain to work overtime to produce melatonin (the hormone responsible for regulating sleep patterns and your body clock).
SAD Can Be Serious
Although SAD is a seasonal disorder, it should be viewed as seriously as major depression (since SAD is a subtype of major depression). The Mayo Health Clinic warns that if you feel any of the following symptoms, you should contact a doctor:
- Feeling depressed most days and for the majority of the day
- Feelings of hopeless, worthless, or frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Low energy or little interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Changes in appetite or weight gain/loss
- Having little motivation, extreme moodiness, or difficult following through with daily activities
Additionally, if you turn to alcohol or drugs to help you “get through the season”, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Even though SAD is a seasonal disorder and symptoms will improve with the arrival of spring, there’s no need to suffer through the winter months. There are three main treatment options that doctors recommend:
- Light Therapy: With light therapy, or phototherapy, the patient sits near a special light therapy box and exposed to bright light (which mimics outdoor light). Light therapy seems to an effective treatment for SAD because it may change the brain chemicals linked to mood.
- Talk Therapy: Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, may be an effective treatment option, particularly when used with light therapy or medication. When a patient participates in talk therapy, he or she is talking about negative thoughts and learns how to cope with SAD and how to manage stress.
- Medication: If you have a severe case of SAD, a doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as Wellbutrin. Although it can alleviate symptoms of SAD, you will most likely take it throughout the year.
In addition to seeking treatment for SAD, experts recommend getting fresh air whenever possible, exercising, eating well, and make your home as bright as possible.