A colleague greeted me today with the announcement, “I’m so done with winter.” I think that many of us would agree…the recent snow, fluctuations in temperature that bring the gift of freezing rain, clearing the driveway yet again. A local newscaster announced yesterday that there is a shortage of sidewalk de-icer!
Seasonal Affective Disorder
All fun aside, some people need spring, and the longer hours of daylight, for bigger reasons than to get a break from the cold and dark. These are people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that is related to the change of season. It is experienced by individuals who are not usually depressed at other times of the year. It often begins, and ends, at the same time every year. While most people who suffer from SAD do so in the winter, some may do so in the summer instead.
How Do I Know If I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
- Low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
What Causes SAD?
While there are no known clear-cut causes, we do have some ideas of what may bring on SAD.
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm).The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels.A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels.The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
What Can I Do?
There are many ways that you can cope with SAD symptoms. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, some or all may help.
Increase Your Exercise
While it’s easy to hunker down during the winter, especially when feeling depressed, increasing your level of exercise has been shown to improve negative effects of SAD. Exercise releases endorphins (the ‘feel good’) hormone as well as improving seratonin levels.
Cut Back on Simple Carbs
During cold days, when we spend more time on the couch, we may also be spending more time with white pasta, candy, potato chips, cookies and other ‘comfort’ foods. Unfortunately, these foods cause sharp spikes in our glucose levels that play havoc with our moods. If you’re suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s a good idea to pay special attention to eating well.
Take Advantage of Natural Light
When possible open your drapes or shutters to let in the sun (when it makes an appearance!). Spend time outside by going for a walk, shoveling the driveway, or inviting friends over for a snowball fight or snowman-building competition. As long as you dress warmly, it can be fun.
Use a Natural Spectrum Energy Light
If Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough natural light, box light therapy is an alternative. Natural spectrum energy lights mimic the sun’s rays. While data on the results of these lights is mixed, many people say that they are helpful.
Make a Point of Socializing
When we’re feeling depressed, often the last thing we want to do is be with other people. However, this is often what is needed. If possible, plan a regular get-together with friends–even a coffee date will do.
Meet with a Therapist and/or Medical Professional
As with any form of depression, sometimes it becomes difficult to cope with. If you are feeling unsafe, hopeless, attempting to self-soothe with self-harming behaviours, alcohol or drugs, feel that SAD is taking over life or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for professional help ASAP. You don’t have to cope with this alone.
And now…here’s a break from the winter. No sunscreen required! Enjoy!