Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a type of depression that strikes in the winter.
I think every one of us can admit that in the winter time, between short days, clouds and cold weather, it is pretty easy to get a case of the blahs. SAD is a type of depression that tends to recur around the winter months. It comes on in the spring and leaves in the winter. There are many lines of thought about how to classify SAD. If it is a type of depression, if it is its own separate condition, or if it even exists at all (though less people are in this camp now). In this article, lets open up this conversation. Talk about SAD. What you can do about it and how to stop it from coming back.
What is it and who is affected by SAD?
SAD is a seasonal type of depressive condition.
Common symptoms include
• Getting too much sleep (hypersomnia)
• Increased appetite
• Overeating (especially carbs)
• Fatigue and lack of energy
• Loss of social activity
This affects 4x more women than men and is more common at people living further North. People in North America are also twice as likely to have SAD than in Europe (that one is super interesting and I wonder why it’s the case).
There is a natural slowing of energy and slight malaise that happens in the winter. This is just a consequence of the shorter days. It is when it starts to interfere with your day-to-day activities or your ability to get out of bed that it can be an issue. If you feel like this might be you, speak with your doctor to learn more about treatment options.
It doesn’t just affect your mood, it can affect other areas of your health as well.
A study was done in Finland that looked at symptoms of different chronic illness during different months of the year. It showed that there were a lot of conditions that showed variation or worsening symptoms in the winter. 70% of people in the study had changes in sleep, social activity, mood and energy level in the winter. Symptoms of their diseases also got worse. It was a range of different conditions too! It ranged from diabetes, to high blood pressure, to arthritis.
Apparently winter just isn’t our friend sometimes.
How to keep SAD at bay and boost our mood in the winter.
For this, I’m going to lean on the research but throw in some of my suggestions. I know that I can be really sensitive to the seasons as well. I feel my energy drop and feelings of tiredness hit me faster than they normally would.
1. Light Therapy!
Light therapy is one of the most researched and well documented ways to help with SAD. Natural light applied to the eyes (there are some masks that you can use) has been shown to alleviate signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I really do believe that this is why people have so much benefit going down south in the winter. Even for a week, the break of cold, dreary days can have a huge impact on your mood and how you’re feeling.
2. Get to the Gym!
Exercise for all types of depression has been shown to be beneficial. Spark by Dr. Ratey is one of the first books that I will recommend when I get on the topic of the use of exercise for mental health. Getting the blood pumping and body moving can keep feelings of stress, anxiety and depression at bay. It releases “feel good” hormones that give you the boost you might need. Sometimes a good work out is just good for the soul!
3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk-therapy where a certified professional will work through a series of exercises based on your perceptions of certain tasks and mindset. There has been some preliminary studies to show this can help get you through some of the “winter blue”
4. Embrace winter!
Okay this one is coming from me. For me, outside has this humungous therapeutic effect. It calms me down, makes me feel better and boosts my energy. When I decided to try to get involved in winter sports and activities, I noticed days I was outside I felt better. We have two dogs. That helps. They need walks and that forces me to get my butt outside.
These are just some strategies. Medications may be another option but that is not a discussion for me to have. If you feel like you may have SAD or wish to speak more about it, contact your doctor. You aren’t alone. I feel like there are many people who are affected. Start the conversation! Talking to a friend of love one may give you the boost you need.
Basnet, S., Merikanto, I., Lahti, T., Mannisto, S., Laatikainen, T., Vartiainen, E., & Partonen, T. (2016). Seasonal variations in mood and behavior associate with common chronic diseases and symptoms in a population-based study. Psychiatry Research, 238, 181-188. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2016.02.023 [doi]
Meesters, Y., & Gordijn, M. C. (2016). Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: Current insights and treatment options. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 9, 317-327. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S114906 [doi]