What you Should Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder
Are your friends bubbling with energy about plans for the fall and winter months while you feel quite the opposite? Do you find that you are feeling moody and tired this time of year? It is easy to brush off these feelings as merely the “cold weather blues.” But if your symptoms progress as the days get shorter, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to researchers at the University of Glasgow women are nearly four times as likely as men to experience seasonal depression. In most cases, SAD symptoms begin to appear in the fall or early winter, worsen during the winter and then improve in the spring and summer. Symptoms usually include
- Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Low energy
- Heavy feelings in arms or legs
- Sleep problems (either getting too little or oversleeping)
- Changes in appetite or weight fluctuation
- Feeling uneasy, down or agitated most of the time
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Although the specific causes of SAD are unknown, doctors at the Mayo Clinic say that shorter daylight hours of may disrupt your internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.
Seasonal changes also can interfere with the body’s levels of melatonin, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.
However, there are some important steps you can take if you feel that you have SAD. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any form of depression. It is wise to consult your doctor if SAD is changing the way you live your life.
In addition to seeking your doctor’s advice, you might be able to improve SAD symptoms by increasing your exposure to daylight.
Get outside more during daylight hours. If you work indoors, try to get near a sunny window more often – perhaps by rearranging your workspace. Or, skip the gym and take a walk or a jog outside during your break or before or after work while it is still light.
Some people report that working near a light therapy lamp, a lamp that emits a bright white full spectrum light, gives them positive mood-changing results.
Exercising also can help SAD symptoms as can limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep, and incorporate relaxation exercises or meditation into your day.
About 10 to 20 percent of North Americans have mild SAD. About 4 to 6 percent experience a more severe form of winter depression. SAD is four times more common in women than in men.
If you are feeling the “winter blues” coming on, you don’t have to just deal with it. You can get help. In addition to the tips in this article, here are some other resources to check out.