What is Seasonal Affect Disorder & What You Can Do This Winter

by | Jan 31, 2020 | Lifestyle, Wellness

During the wintertime, the short daylight hours, cold weather and gray skies often lead people to spend time hunkering down in their homes. You might want to sleep more or just curl up on the couch in a blanket and binge on movies or shows. For some people, this seasonal slump is more. It could be a seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression. It’s important to think about your symptoms so that you can make an appointment with your doctor if your depression persists or worsens.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD is a type of depression, and its symptoms are similar to those of other types of depression. They include a depressed mood or persistent feelings of hopelessness. You may lack energy and lose the pleasure you feel when doing your favorite activities, such as walking your dog or watching sports. Other symptoms include changes in appetite, excessive sleepiness or insomnia, heaviness in arms and legs, relationship problems, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, trouble concentrating and thoughts of self-harm.

Causes of SAD

Scientists and doctors don’t have a definitive answer about what causes SAD, but they do have many ideas. The decrease in sunlight in the wintertime might affect a person’s circadian rhythm. This sends your internal clock on a tailspin and lowers your levels of serotonin and melatonin, which are hormones that affect your mood sleepiness. Young females have a higher risk of SAD, which could be related to the menstrual cycle. People who live far away from the equator also have a higher risk of SAD. This is because places far away from the equator get even less sunlight during the wintertime.

When to Call Your Doctor

If your depressed or sad mood lasts for more than a week or two without a break, call your doctor. You should also make an appointment with your doctor if your sleep or appetite changes. Call your primary care doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or a licensed counselor. Make a list of questions to ask yourself and the healthcare provider. You might consider asking which behavioral changes you could make, what other conditions could cause your symptoms and what helps or worsens your symptoms.

Treatment Options for SAD

As with other types of depression, each person responds differently to the treatment options. You might have to try more than one type of treatment in order to find the best fit for you. Light therapy is a common treatment for SAD. It involves exposure to a full-spectrum light bulb. You can buy one and put it in the lamp by your favorite sitting spot. Psychotherapy is another common treatment. Also called “talk therapy,” it involves counseling with a trained and licensed therapist. You might also consider medications. Anti-depressant medications take a few weeks to make a difference, but they are very helpful to people with intense SAD symptoms.

What You Can Do Today

In addition to visiting your doctor, there are some lifestyle changes that you can make in order to improve your mood. Spend some time outside, especially on sunny winter days. Choose nutritious foods, stay hydrated and avoid alcohol or excessive caffeine. Get some exercise every day, and consider trying mindfulness or mental relaxation exercises. Spend some time each day doing something you love, such as reading a novel, playing with your dog or knitting.


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