Why The Winter Months Can Make You SAD

Photo Credit: Flickr

Photo Credit: Flickr

By: Jamie Jablonowski, RN, BSN
Follow me on Twitter! @jamiejab

The holidays are over. You’re not getting any more presents, your iPad is already broken, and the whole world got engaged while you had one unsuccessful Tinder date. Plus it’s about negative eight degrees outside and there’s no way to look cute when as soon as you enter a building, your nose starts dripping snot.

For some people, this time of year is not the best, but manageable with hot chocolate and a stolen Netflix account. For others, the winter months bring symptoms of a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

SAD can impact anyone, but is more commonly found among women and those between the ages of 15 and 55. Living in an area where the winter days are shorter and having a close family member with SAD can also increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing SAD.

The exact cause of the disorder is unknown, but it may be due to a lack of sunlight disrupting the sleep-wake cycle and/or changes in the levels of serotonin or melatonin in the brain. In the United States, between 4-6 percent of people suffer from this disorder.

Symptoms of winter-onset SAD include:

-          Hopelessness

-          Increased appetite with weight gain (especially if you are eating and craving carbs)

-          Increased sleep

-          Less energy

-          Lower ability to concentrate

-          Loss of interest in work or other activities

-          Sluggish movements

-          Social withdrawal

-          Unhappiness and irritability

People who suffer from SAD will experience these symptoms during the same time each year. The symptoms usually start in September or October and end around April or May. Ten percent of people who have SAD will experience symptoms during the summer months and may experience a loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia, irritability, agitation, or anxiety.

While most people reading have already self-diagnosed themselves, your health care provider is the one who can officially make the diagnosis. If your symptoms are severe enough, you may need antidepressant medications, counseling, or light therapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special fluorescent lamp that mimics the sun, and is usually prescribed before symptoms present themselves, for 30-90 minutes each day. Despite popular belief, this is not an excuse to go tanning. The lights in those beds will not cure your SAD, they will just give you skin cancer.

There are things you can do at home as well. First, put down that bottle of whiskey/wine/mouthwash. Alcohol and drugs can make depression worse and cause you to make bad decisions while you’re already in a bad place. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising regularly.

While treatable, some people will deal with SAD their entire lives. If you are experiencing any of the SAD symptoms, it is important that you discuss them with someone as soon as possible. Pick up the phone and make an appointment with your doctor. A conversation with a medical professional, at the very least, will help you decipher if what you’re feeling is something that can be managed on its own or needs more aggressive treatment. As with any ailment, it’s easier to treat when the symptoms are small and manageable. Reach out to your friends and family and seek medical attention immediately if you are thinking about hurting yourself in anyway.

You already have to shovel snow, avoid slipping on the death trap that is a public sidewalk (there is never enough salt), and wear way too many layers. There’s no need to manage your depression alone as well.

The following are links to more resources:

American Psychological Association

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Mental Health America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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One thought on “Why The Winter Months Can Make You SAD

  1. GP says:

    This is also a helpful resource; is a worldwide directory of prevention websites, hotlines, textlines that also specify the demographics they target like post-partum moms, grad students, LGBT, etc.

    http://suicideprevention.wikia.com/wiki/International_Suicide_Prevention_Directory

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