Every year do you find yourself feeling down during the holidays and winter season? You may be chalking that up to just missing the summer, but actually it could mean you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Research shows that it’s most common in women too. Here’s how you combat it!
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression or “winter blues”, it is a mood disorder characterized by depressive symptoms that occur at the same time every year, typically between fall and spring. SAD is estimated to develop between the ages of 18 and 30, and is four times more common in women. However, it is estimated to affect 10 million of all Americans to some degree.
- Symptoms of SAD typically begin between your 20’s and 30’s, putting younger adults more at risk.
- Symptoms of depression such as: feeling unhappy, hopeless, pessimistic, worthless, having low energy, a loss of interest in activities you like, feeling sluggish, agitated, difficulty concentrating, feeling anxious
- Experiencing more of an appetite, weight gain, or craving carbs
- Wanting to be alone
- Greater need for sleep
Risk factors for SAD
Gender and Age
As mentioned before, women have a higher rate of having seasonal depression than men. While researchers and professionals are not 100% sure why women are more affected, there are a couple of theories. One is that estrogen, a primary female hormone, affects serotonin–a hormone that could be highly involved in the onset of SAD (more details on this below). Another theory? Women may also just be reaching out for help more than men, which means there’s more data on women than men.
Additionally, if you are pregnant, chances are you’re already feeling the effects of pregnancy hormones and physical or mood changes. This could make pregnant women more susceptible to SAD, or worsen symptoms.
Hormones & Family History
Some researchers believe that lack of sunlight reduces your serotonin levels, a brain chemical that regulates mood and sleep.
Production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, increases in the darkness and affects our circadian rhythms. This can be associated with depression, and leaves people with SAD feeling sleepier. Additionally, exposure to sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. During the colder months, the shorter and darker days can mean your body is producing less of it. Low levels of vitamin D may affect serotonin levels, linking to depressive symptoms.
Lastly, having a family history of depression means you are more likely to develop SAD than those without. You are also more at risk if you yourself also have a history of depression or mood disorders.
How do you treat SAD?
- Light Therapy: Use a full spectrum light (a light that puts out 10,000 lux) to “replace” the natural sunlight your body is missing during the winter months. Make sure the light has a filter for safety from UV rays, and follow the instructions carefully when in use.
- Get Outside: Even if it’s cloudy, the natural light and fresh air can help you feel better.
- Exercise: Exercising daily, particularly early in the day, can help regulate your circadian rhythms–which can be key to treating SAD.
- Healthy Diet: Try not to give in to cravings! Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help energy levels. Foods with proteins and Vitamin D especially can be especially helpful, as those who suffer from SAD may have lower levels of Vitamin D. Omega 3’s help with mood disorders as well and when consumed safely also promote healthy baby brain development if you’re pregnant.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants such as Bupropion XL can be used to treat SAD. Talk to your doctor to determine if this is the right treatment for you.
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to identify negative thoughts and thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones. Therapists can help you identify activities that are engaging and help cope.
- Be Social: You may not feel like it, but keeping up with friends and family, having social and emotional support will help getting through SAD feel like less of a burden to carry.
Seasonal Affective Disorder sounds intense, but with the right treatment you can learn to keep the bad feelings and habits at bay. There are more people who have this than you think! While you should speak to your primary doctor and therapist for treatment of SAD, we also encourage you to practice self care and keep up with your annual female health appointment which can be scheduled at any of our three locations.