The winter season can be hard on everyone, but for some people it is more than just the “winter blues.” Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually occurs at the same time each year. It often goes away with warmer weather and longer days. If you are experiencing SAD, you may feel like there’s no point to anything or as though everything in your life is hopeless.
You might also start feeling guilty about things that would normally seem unimportant – even when they’re not your fault! Some people experience changes in their appetite or gain weight during this time. Or maybe you’ve noticed yourself sleeping too much or having trouble focusing on what you do all day?
These may all be signs of seasonal affective disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD is a type of depression that has its own seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about four to five months per year. The most common type of seasonal affective disorder occurs during winter (and especially January – February).
There is a form of SAD that occurs during the summer months. You may feel as if it’s just something that happens and that you should simply “deal with it.” However, if your symptoms become so severe that you feel you can’t live your daily life, then you must take steps to take care of yourself.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD
SAD has symptoms in common with some other forms of depression, and winter and summer patterns differ in their signs/symptoms. Your symptoms might include:
- Weight Loss
- Weight Gain
- Increased Agitation
- Decreased Appetite
- Lack of Energy
- Increased Anxiety
Common FAQs about Seasonal Affective Disorder
What causes SAD?
Scientists have yet to determine the cause of this challenging disorder. Research points towards reduced activity from a brain chemical called serotonin, which helps regulate moods and maintain energy levels throughout each day (or season).
A lack of serotonin may happen because wintertime sunlight does not produce enough Vitamin D for our bodies’ manufacturing process, meaning those that experience SAD don’t receive as much benefit when they’re outside during these cold months!
Another belief is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by an overproduction of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is essential for telling your body when to sleep and wake.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosed?
It can be difficult for doctors or mental health professionals to diagnose SAD because other types of depression, like anxiety and bipolar disorders, might cause similar symptoms. Your doctor may do a thorough evaluation which includes interviews with you about your day-to-day life as well as blood tests and scans that evaluate brain activity patterns (such Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI).
How is SAD treated?
The good news is that there are many ways to treat seasonal affective disorder. Starting early in the season is key!
Light therapy, antidepressants, exercise and psychotherapy are all common ways to treat SAD symptoms. Just know that you are not alone, as the American Psychiatric Association reports that 5% of the population suffer from SAD.
For a complete break-down of SAD treatments, read this article.
Seasonal Affective Disorder and Caregiving
It’s important to take care of yourself, especially if you are a caregiver. Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder is an example of how it can be hard for caregivers to stay healthy while taking care of someone else.
The South Central Regional Library Council in the Finger Lakes of New York hosted me for a talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I’d like to encourage you to visit their YouTube Channel and listen to the workshop.
You’ll find it at https://youtu.be/esHPw7Qntyk. If there’s anything we can help with in the meantime, let us know – we want everyone who takes on the role of caregiver, whether you’re a professional or you provide care for your loved ones, to feel supported.