Do you know that feeling that comes around during the winter season? The one where you just don’t feel like waking up in the morning? The one where getting through the day is one of the hardest things you have to do? The one where you spend hours staring up at the ceiling, just unable to fall asleep no matter how tired you are? Well, there’s a reason for that and it has to do with the winter blues. Yes, they’re a real thing although, in medical terms, it’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
According to Mayo Clinic, it is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. Like clockwork, it happens around the same time every year, usually starting in the fall and continuing into the winter months. It drains your energy and makes your moods go for a toss. In some less common cases, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. A subset of depression, it comes and goes but it doesn’t mean that if one winter, you feel dull, you suddenly have SAD. Only if the symptoms persist for at least two years consecutively, then you have the disorder.
How common is it and what are the symptoms of it?
Psychology Today states that around 10 million Americans are said to be diagnosed with the disorder, with women suffering from it four times more than men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the winter pattern of SAD symptoms include:
– Having low energy
– Weight gain
– Craving for carbohydrates
– Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
While the symptoms of the less frequently occurring summer seasonal affective disorder include:
– Poor appetite with associated weight loss
– Episodes of violent behavior
Why does it occur?
Medline Plus claims that the exact causes of SAD are still unknown. However, researchers have found that those suffering from the disorder have an imbalance in the levels of serotonin, a hormone that affects mood, in their body. This could cause you to feel depressed and just generally low. Additionally, their bodies produce too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, and not enough vitamin D.
This imbalance could be caused by the fact that during the darker months, you might not be getting enough sunlight to reduce the amount of melatonin in your body. And since the days are getting shorter and the nights are becoming longer during these winter months, you will be spending more time in darkness this season. This could result in you waking up or falling asleep at irregular times during the day, outside of your usual routine timing and open you up to seasonal depression.
Is it treatable?
Yes, it is treatable. And these are the ways you can reduce the effects of the disorder:
1. Get enough light
This season, make sure to get as much light as you can. Your exposure to sunlight can make a huge difference. Another way of making up for the lack of sunlight is light therapy. Exposure to bright lights too can help boost the levels of your happy hormones in your body. However, make sure to consult a doctor before using this method as a cure.
Just the thought of it might be off-putting, especially in the winter, but it’s essential that your body gets the workout it needs even if you’re feeling low. Some simple exercises that can be performed at home or teaming up with someone to motivate each other to exercise can help get it started. Even a brisk walk can fulfill your activity needs as well as improve your mood.
3. Eat well but leave out the carbohydrates
As much as you can, stay away from sugary foods. According to Medical News Today, individuals with SAD tend to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, especially sweets and starchy foods. Over-eating is also an issue during these periods of “seasonal lows,” so it’s important that you look after your diet in order to feel more energized. Include foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, as they have been proved to have many health benefits, including possibly influencing your mood, says dietician Natalie Olsen in a review with Healthline.
4. Visit a medical consultant
If you have these symptoms of SAD, visiting a doctor to confirm the disorder is always essential. Their expertise will allow them to come up with a treatment plan specific to your needs and help you get over the disorder. For your own safety, do not start any treatments on your own.