Here’s What You Should Know

Everyone knows the feeling that overtakes us as winter drags on well past the holidays. We look outside at a cold, desolate world with gray skies and ask ourselves, “Will spring ever arrive?” In most cases, these emotions are just part of our annual winter blues. They’re unpleasant but far from debilitating. In some cases, however, these symptoms point to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a serious condition that affects 1 in 15 people in the UK between the months of September and April. In this post, we’ll outline SAD’s causes, risk factors and treatments.SAD basics
SAD occurs primarily during the winter (although summer is the triggering season for some people, according to Smithsonian).

Symptoms of the illness can include:
– Lack of energy
– Excessive or erratic sleep patterns
– Irritability
– Overall lethargy
– Craving for sweets or other carbohydrates
– A sense of futility or hopelessness about life in general
– An inability to accept or believe good news

Everyone experiences these problems once in awhile, of course. But, when they’re severe enough to impact the person’s quality of life, and when they seem to come and go with the seasons, then SAD is a prime culprit, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Causes of SAD
In modern times, we often forget that human beings have a strong historical and biological connection with the change of seasons. For most of history, our ancestors spent their days either gathering or producing food. Winter meant more than cold weather to these people. It was a time of heightened dangers and prolonged hardship. Also, since farming is a seasonal occupation, the coming of winter entailed long periods of boredom and inactivity.

Today, few of us in the West worry about going hungry. But our connection with the past remains encoded in our makeup. This may explain why we feel downbeat when winter comes calling. Specific changes that can occur within our bodies include:

– Disruptions to our brain’s production of melatonin and serotonin, two chemicals that regulate our emotions and sleep/wake cycle.
– Cyclic changes due to reduced natural light. Our brain may have trouble keeping us on a normal schedule when dawn comes later and dusk earlier.
– Lowered demand for stamina leading to a sort of semi-hibernation.

Risk factors
Certain people are at special risk of developing SAD. Common characteristics of sufferers include:
– Personal or family history of depression or other mental illnesses.
– Physical health issues like sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
– Psychological trauma in the recent months or years, such as losing a loved one.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you believe you’re suffering from SAD. She may prescribe any or all of the following measures:
– Antidepressants.
– Counseling.
– Increased physical activity.
– Light therapy, which researchers believe helps to regulate the body’s clock.

SAD and substance abuse
Some people turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with SAD. In fact, people with the disorder are at special risk for developing addictive behaviors. But these measures only make the underlying problems worse. Seek help if you feel tempted by substance abuse. You may find respite in alternatives such as group counseling, exercise and expressing your creative gifts.

Taking Life as It Comes
Each season has charms of its own. Winter’s beauty is more subtle than that of spring and summer, but it’s just as real. Learning to appreciate what every moment has to offer can help anyone to feel better, even those who struggle with seasonal depression.

Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.