With daylight in short supply, you may find yourself feeling lethargic, craving carbohydrates and going to bed earlier. Rather than dismissing those feelings as the winter continues, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Knowing the symptoms
SAD is a type of depression that occurs as daylight wanes in late fall and often continues until early spring. Symptoms of SAD include:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities.
- Social withdrawal.
- Sensitivity to rejection.
- Irritability and anxiety.
- Guilt and hopelessness.
- Fatigue or low energy levels.
- Decreased sex drive.
- Decreased ability to concentrate.
- Trouble thinking clearly.
- Weight gain.
- Physical problems, such as headaches.
Anyone can get SAD, but it is more common in women, people between the ages of 15 and 55 (the risk goes down as you age) and those who live farther from the equator. Experts are unsure of what causes SAD, though they think it might be connected to the lack of sunlight upsetting sleep-wake patterns, or the short days affecting a brain chemical called serotonin. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, also has been linked to SAD.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of SAD, it is important to see a healthcare professional who can help you sort through the cause of your depression and discuss treatment. He or she can also check for other possibilities such as low thyroid, which can present similar symptoms. A mental health assessment may be performed to get a better idea of how you feel and how your depression is affecting your ability to think, reason and remember.
Tips for treatment
Treatment for SAD often consists of light therapy, spending more time outside, psychotherapy and antidepressants. Remember, people rarely “snap out of” a depression, but there are things you can do yourself to help relieve symptoms:
- Set realistic goals. Don’t take on too much. Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities and do what we can as we can.
- Try to be around other people. Being around others usually makes you feel better.
- Do things that make you feel better. Going to a movie or taking part in religious, social or other activities may help. Doing something nice for someone else can also help you feel better.
- Get regular exercise.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs. These can make depression worse.
- Delay big decisions until the depression has lifted.