During the winter, you might hear people talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Or perhaps you start to feel a low mood as it gets colder and the nights get longer. You might wonder whether SAD could be causing your change in mood. But what exactly is SAD, how can it affect you, and how do you know if you have it?
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that changes with the seasons. It’s sometimes called “the winter blues” because it typically worsens during the winter.
SAD has a number of symptoms, which include:
- Persistent low mood
- No longer taking pleasure in everyday activities
- Disruption in sleep, i.e. sleeping more than usual or less than usual
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, despair or guilt
- Changes in appetite, possible weight gain or loss.
These symptoms may be experienced in different severities. Some people can find that their life is significantly impacted by the symptoms that they experience.
What Causes SAD?
It’s not known what the exact cause of SAD may be, but a lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter months could be a factor. Less light could stop the hypothalamus, a part of the brain, from working properly. This could affect things like the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, producing more than necessary. Another consequence might be that the production of serotonin, which affects your mood, appetite and sleep, is lowered. Less light could also affect your body’s circadian rhythm, disrupting your sleep patterns.
Is SAD the Same as ‘the Winter Blues’?
Many people might find that they start to get a case of the winter blues when the seasons change. The dark and cold get you down, and you might wish for spring to arrive. But experiencing the winter blues is not the same as having Seasonal Affective Disorder. People who have a case of the winter blues may experience a low mood and feel lethargic, but it typically won’t affect their day-to-day activities. On the other hand, those with SAD are more likely to have symptoms that interfere with their daily functioning and become debilitating. If the winter blues start to disrupt your life, it could be that you have SAD.
Treatment for SAD
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder includes a range of options. Some treatments that might be recommended include lifestyle changes to help you get more natural sunlight exposure, increase exercise, and add supplements such as vitamin D. Light therapy can also be used to help supplement natural light and can be vital in locations where it is dark for all or most of the day during winter. Talking to a therapist is also recommended for people with SAD and other types of depression. Antidepressant medications might also be recommended for those struggling with symptoms.
Winter can get you down, but not every case of the winter blues is SAD, recognizing your symptoms can help you to differentiate between the two and determine when to seek help. Bridge to Balance is here to provide support during those challenging winter months.