Do You Have the Winter Blues? All About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
by Kristen Milliron, LCSW, Mental Health Therapist
Do you ever feel like you have the “winter blues” or feel more sad and depressed when the days are shorter? Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression also known as SAD, which is a seasonal depression or winter depression. Studies have found that around 5% of adults in the US experience SAD and symptoms tend to last around 40% of the year.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can range from mild to severe symptoms which may include...
Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable to others)
Feeling worthless or guilty
Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide
CAUSES OF SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.
Research indicates that people with SAD may have reduced activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood. Research also suggests that sunlight controls the levels of molecules that help maintain normal serotonin levels, but in people with SAD, this regulation does not function properly, resulting in decreased serotonin levels in the winter.
Other findings suggest that people with SAD produce too much melatonin—a hormone that is central for maintaining the normal sleep-wake cycle. Overexpression of melatonin can increase sleepiness.
Deficits in vitamin D may exacerbate the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder because vitamin D is believed to promote serotonin activity. In addition to vitamin D consumed with diet, the body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight on the skin. With less daylight in the winter, people with SAD may have lower vitamin D levels, which may further hinder serotonin activity.
<<Not sure what your Vitamin D level is? Schedule a phone consult with Kate to discuss Functional Lab Testing at The Facility>>
HOW TO TREAT SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated in several ways, including talk therapy, light therapy and in some cases medication. Symptoms will generally improve on their own when the season changes, though symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.
Light therapy has been found to be very effective in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light Therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits bright light. Light therapy devices can be easily found for purchase. (You can also visit Restore South Broadway for Full-Body Photobiomodulation)
Many people report improvements from using the light within a few weeks. People have also found that starting light therapy in early fall can help prevent symptoms.
Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), has also been found to effectively treat SAD. As with other talk therapy treatments, it's important to find a Mental Health Professional whom you connect with and trust. If you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider finding a therapist in the fall before the onset of symptoms. However, it's never too late to start if you find yourself in the midst of malaise.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will generally improve on its own with the change of season. BUT, intervention like talk therapy or light therapy can improve symptoms more quickly.
Take the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it's not treated. If you are experiencing any symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, seek the help of a trained medical or mental health professional.
I believe that prioritizing your mental health is a daily practice. Need help putting yourself first? Reach out.
Kristen Milliron, LCSW sees patients in-person at The Facility in Denver, CO and is accepting new patients (Telehealth and In-person).
Learn more about Kristen's Therapy Style here.
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