Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recurring type of depression that begins in the Fall and continues through Winter, but tends to go away with the sunnier days of Spring and Summer. It is believed to be a result changes in the amount of sunlight that affects your internal biological clock (circadian rhythm), which can affect your sleep patterns and serotonin levels.
There are other factors that begin in the Fall, which impact mood and behavior. With the colder temperatures and decreased sunlight we’re not as able to enjoy outdoor activities and can feel stuck inside. It can also feel significantly different to leave work in the summer at five o’clock when the sun is up for a few more hours to enjoy life than when you leave work at 5 o’clock during the winter and it’s already getting dark making it feel like your evening is gone.
In addition, Fall kicks off the holiday season which brings with it a tremendous amount of stress. Even if you love the holidays like I do, it is still stressful and requires a lot of energy. The holidays typically mean eating and cooking some delicious yet very unhealthy meals and treats, which can lead to weight gain that also affects self-esteem and mood. For many, the holidays are a lonely time that increases feelings of isolation and sadness.
With all of this going on, is it no surprise that the way you feel can be severely impacted. Everyone has an occasional off day, but there is a big difference between feeling down for a day or two and depression. What can differentiate SAD from other types of depression would be if you have experienced depression in the Fall/Winter months at least two years in a row.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include:
Low energy/feeling tired
Feeling sad most of the day for two weeks
Lack of interest in things you would typically enjoy
Irritability or agitation
Problem getting to sleep/staying asleep
Having difficulty focusing and concentrating
Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and/or guilt
Thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm
Changes in appetite and weight
If you feel you have any of the above symptoms or other changes in your mood and behavior not listed that are negatively impacting your daily functioning, it is time to seek help by talking with your doctor or therapist. The good news is that SAD is very treatable, and you can manage your symptoms and begin to feel like yourself again so don’t wait to get help. The treatment for SAD typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, light therapy and sometimes medication.
Wendy Becker, LCSW is a licensed therapist, author of 99 Ways to Take Control of Your Anxiety & Stress and stress coach. For more information, tools, tips and techniques on leading a happier and less stressed life, go to WendyBecker.net.