Have you noticed a change in your mental state this winter? Some people begin to feel a general, unexplainable depression. Normally outgoing, typically happy people can start to feel like they are loosing interest in things they normally enjoy and feel far more lethargic. Because people love acronyms, this seasonal depression is called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. People living in areas with really dramatic changes in the climate are much more prone to the effects of SAD.
What are the symptoms?
Feeling generally depressed most of the time.
Loss of interest in many of your favorite activities
Low energy and motivation
Increased social anxiety and the urge to withdrawal
Increased appetite and weight gain.
When afflicted with SAD someone’s thought patterns can change quite drastically. They can feel like they are in an unescapable rut and like they themselves are worthless. Feeling both stuck and worthless can create a feedback loop that will lead them to believe they deserve to feel this way and will avoid finding solutions.
What causes SAD?
For people with winter onset SAD, the lack of sunlight is a major factor. When the seasons change, two things happen, the days become shorter and the chances of sunshine are reduced. Here in Montana, the change is very drastic, the length of our longest day VS shortest day is about seven hours. Our bodies have an internal clock that regulates sleeping patterns this is called a circadian rhythm. When there is very little sunlight, there can be a change to our circadian rhythm, creating a noticeable change in our mood and sleeping patterns. It seems as though there is a direct correlation between sunlight and serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer. Another light sensitive chemical is melatonin, this is produced in the absence of light. These two chemicals work great to create a balance between rest and productivity when produced in proper levels.
It is my personal opinion SAD at one point served a purpose for early humans. Feeling tired and unmotivated could have helped people conserve energy during times of scarcity. If someone felt the urge to sleep, eat high energy food and stay inside I feel they would have a greater chance of surviving a hard winter. Today things are different we don’t have a scarcity of food in the winter or the same risk of freezing to death. We must remain at peak performance all the time, we can’t sleep through a dark day and still maintain a job. We can’t withdrawal from people and maintain our social circle and we can’t load up on high energy food and maintain the body type modern society finds attractive. I only bring up this theory of mine to remind people feeling SAD doesn’t mean you are defective as a human.
How to combat the effects?
Many people turn to light therapy, this is an affective way to counteract the lack of sunlight by adding an artificial source of light. These lights can be easily purchased online and really range in cost, a simple SAD light can make a huge difference in changing your outlook.
Getting exercise is another great way to help cope with SAD. Working out not only boosts the production of serotonin but can disrupt a destructive thought pattern. With the lack of motivation being one of the more prevalent symptoms getting to the gym isn’t always easy. I suggest either finding a work out partner and forming a strict schedule. Another way to clear the motivation slump is to join a workout program with classes that start at the same time each day so you can get into a routine.
Psychotherapy can also give you the tools you need to deal with SAD. Psychotherapy may sound intimidating but the therapy itself is meant to help you cope with the thought patterns that are having a negative effect on your life. Speaking to a professional can help you identify harmful thought patterns and find a solution to your specific situation.
Medication can also help with they symptoms if your doctor values the benefits over the risks of having you take the medications.
When to seek help?
If you have even so much as contemplated suicide or anything self destructive it’s gone to far and you must seek professional help. Everyone has their own way of coping with stress if you feel like you are turning to alcohol or drugs get help, these coping mechanisms only work as a short term solution and will eventually worsen the depression. If your depression is having an effect on your job it might be a good idea to seek a solution before you are no longer able to hold down your job. SAD can put a strain on relationships as well, dealing with an irritable, lethargic and anxious friend or spouse can be difficult. Don’t let SAD have a lasting effect on your life and don’t be afraid to get help.
Time and Date
National Center for Biotechnology