“‘Tis the season to be jolly!” or is it the time of year you wonder “What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and do I have it?”
SAD is a yearly pattern of depressed mood usually beginning in fall or winter and lasting until spring with many of the following symptoms:
- depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- low energy
- problems with sleeping
- changes in appetite or weight
- feeling either sluggish or agitated
- difficulty concentrating/staying on task
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, unworthiness or guilt
- thoughts of death or suicide
Fall and winter SAD usually presents with excessive sleeping, overeating with a craving for carbohydrates, weight gain, and low energy. Fewer people may have a form of SAD that occurs in spring or early summer. This type is more likely to be associated with insomnia, low appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety.
There is a higher risk in those who have either Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder, family history of SAD and living far from the equator (like Kentucky and Indiana). Specific causes are not known for sure but reduced sunlight can affect our circadian rhythms, serotonin levels, and melatonin balance.
What can you do about it if these factors seem to describe your experience? Start by taking good care of yourself. This includes eating well, getting regular sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene, socializing even when you don’t feel like it, getting mild exercise, brightening your environment as much as possible and getting outdoors on a daily basis–even when it is cold and cloudy. Do not reach for alcohol or illicit drugs for comfort as they will backfire on you!
If these symptoms are affecting your ability to function and your relationships or if you are having increased thoughts of death, see a psychiatrist for evaluation. Medical treatments may include psychotherapy, medications, ruling out other causes and often, light therapy with a 10,000-lux light for 30 minutes during the first hour of your day. While this latter option can be very effective, you should be screened for Bipolar Disorder first as it can set off a manic episode.