Winter is Coming!

Are you feeling a little SAD these days? If so, you could be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is characterized by seasonal patterns. If you have noticed significant changes in your mood when the seasons start to change and end than you might have SAD.

As our Health and Wellness Lead, Lauren King, at 365 Health said, “Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression caused by the changing seasons. Anyone may experience SAD, and the symptoms may be different among different people. Mental Health is a very important aspect of well-being and is not a matter of ‘being tough’ or ‘getting through it’. Learning about symptoms and ways to take care of yourself is so important!”

Typically, people experience sadder moods when the daylight starts to get shorter in the fall and winter. When seasons change again, their moods begin to approve. These mood changes can be serious and can affect the way a person feels, thinks, and goes on with their daily activities.

Here are some interesting stats on the disorder from the American Academy of Family Physicians:

  • 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression
  • 10 to 20 percent will have mild symptoms of SAD
  • Women are 4 times more likely to suffer from SAD than men
  • Not surprisingly, the further north on the globe you live, the more common SAD is

It affects enough people that Yale has a Winter Depression Research Clinic to study seasonal mood change and develop better treatments for it.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD.

Listed below are some signs and symptoms of what someone might experience with SAD. These symptoms can last 4 to 5 months per year. Note – not everyone will experience all these symptoms listed below.

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day
  • Losing interest in your daily activities and hobbies
  • Noticeably experiencing changes in appetite and weight
  • Trouble with your sleep patterns
  • Feeling sluggish and agitated
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

What Causes SAD?

The exact causes of SAD are still a bit unknown, but there are many theories behind why someone might get it.

  • One theory is that people with SAD may have reduced levels of serotonin in their brain which regulates our moods. Along with that, people with SAD might produce more melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is crucial for maintaining normal sleep cycles. The changes in serotonin and melatonin levels disrupt the normal daily rhythms, making it harder for your body to adjust to the seasonal changes which is what causes disruptive sleep patterns, mood, and behavioral changes.
  • Not enough sunlight can be another contributor to SAD. Sunlight controls the molecules that regulate optimal serotonin levels so when the seasons start to change and daylight becomes shorter, the regulation of molecules does not happen properly and that leads to decreased levels of serotonin during the months with little daylight.
  • Not enough sunlight goes hand in hand with your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is produced when skin is exposed to sunlight. However, since many people aren’t exposed to enough sunlight during the winter.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about the winter can also be a risk factor when it comes to developing SAD. It is unclear whether these are direct causes but there is treatment available to help sooth negative feelings about the wintertime.

How is SAD treated?

The winter brings about shorter days, so it’s probably no surprise that one of the best treatments for SAD is light. Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends spending time outdoors for anyone experiencing seasonal affective disorder. 

365 Health’s Health and Wellness Lead, Lauren King, also reminded everyone to “remember, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not something you have to tough out on your own. Drink plenty of water, continue to eat fruits and veggies and get at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day throughout fall and winter months. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help!”

If spending time outdoors isn’t an option, sitting in front of a light therapy box for a 30 to 45 minutes a day is the next best thing. It’s popular for people living in the Pacific Northwest. This treatment tries to mimic sunlight if you can’t get outside during the day.

If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms directly related to SAD, or any other mental stressors, know you are not alone and help is available. 365 Health offers free, anonymous mental health screenings for anyone at any time!

Have questions about your results? Health in Hand can help! For a low cost you can have unlimited access to a doctor whenever you need on. During a session with a telehealth doctor, you can discuss treatment options, seek guidance with a psychiatrist, or make plans for follow-up care.