Do you find that as the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are falling you are feeling depressed and having to work hard to keep yourself from surrendering to debilitating sadness? Are you wondering what the hell is going on because normally you are just fine? Seasonal depression is the word!
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is something that affects millions of women each year, women who ordinarily don’t live with depression. SAD seems to affect women more than men and young women more than older women but It can happen to anyone.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs with the change of the seasons. If you are feeling depressed these days, SAD or seasonal depression might be the cause.
Let me tell you a little bit about SAD and you can see if it might be the cause of your ‘winter blues.’
#1 – Why does seasonal depression happen?
While doctors are not sure why SAD occurs, there are some theories.
The first is that, as the days get shorter, our circadian rhythm, our bodies internal clock, gets thrown off and we don’t sleep as well and our bodies don’t function optimally. This can lead to depression.
Furthermore, the reduced amount of bright sunlight can drop our levels of serotonin and dopamine which often leads to depression.
For me, when fall arrives I start getting cold. I feel like the work because my body works so hard to stay warm it has a harder time regulating my moods. I can actually feel the change in my body and it can be scary.
SAD is NOT your fault. You aren’t weak because you might be suffering. It is happening because of forces outside of yourself.
#2 – What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are very similar to that of depression. They include:
- Feeling sad more often then not
- Having reduced energy
- Feeling hopeless
- Having trouble sleeping
- Increases or decreases in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
SAD is often thought of as a depression that occurs only when winter turns to fall but it also occurs when winter turns into spring. Again, the changes in our bodies’ circadian rhythm as the days get longer seem to lead to a shift in our body chemistry.
Symptoms of spring onset SAD are very similar to the fall onset SAD although anxiety is more common. It’s almost like the body is being recharged after a long winter sleep and it has trouble adjusting to the new charge.
For me, spring is by far the worst time, but I am bipolar and, for many of us living with bipolar disorder, spring SAD can bring on feelings of mania. Think the energizer bunny. That’s me.
#3 – What can help?
Fortunately, many cases of SAD can be treated without medication. There are a few things that have been shown to make a big difference in managing seasonal depression.
For me, when I feel my fall SAD coming on, I pull out my full spectrum therapy lamp, a lamp that emits natural light that mimics the sun. Authentic sunshine can be very rare in New England and my light box gives me access to it on demand.
Every morning, when I am eating breakfast, I spend time in front of my lightbox. Even a small amount of time can help raise serotonin and dopamine levels in my body which can really help with my seasonal depression.
Another thing that really helped me was when I started taking Vitamin D supplements. Best source of Vitamin D for humans is sunshine and vitamin D fortified milk. Because I don’t drink milk and my sun exposure is limited in the winter, taking Vitamin D helps protect my body from serotonin and dopamine loss. Vitamin D helps keep me from being overwhelmed by my SAD depression.
And finally, the thing that can help every kind of depression, especially SAD, is exercise. Nothing raises the body’s levels of serotonin more than exercise (except for maybe sex). So, if you are struggling with SAD, getting off the couch and out for a walk is the best thing that you can do.