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Winter brings many things: snow (if you’re lucky to live in a place that has the stuff), hot chocolate, shorter days and longer nights. For some people, the winter months are their time to shine; for others, the cold season can bring a chill to the soul. Medical professionals have identified a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that is associated with moody and lethargic tendencies - specifically tied to a time of the year.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that happens during certain seasons. You may feel moody and depleted of energy and motivation during these seasons. It tends to manifest most often during the winter months, though there are cases where the onset of spring or summer can trigger SAD symptoms. You may experience any of the following as a result of SAD:
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Trouble with concentrating
- Anti-social tendencies
- Suicidal ideation
This “seasonal funk” can last up to four months, usually resolving in either the spring/summer or fall/winter months.
What Causes SAD?
Research is still being conducted to better understand SAD and why some people are more susceptible to these seasonal depressions than others, but many researchers believe that shorter days and less exposure to sunlight during the winter months could play a big role. This may be due to the increase in melatonin, the body's sleep hormone, which your body produces more of when it’s dark. Too much melatonin in our system can lead to bouts of temporary depression, anxiety, irritability, and a harder time focusing and staying alert.
In terms of risk factors, women tend to develop this condition more frequently than men. It usually doesn’t affect children; adults between the ages of 18-30 are most likely to exhibit symptoms of SAD.
How To Treat SAD
If you’re feeling SAD, one of the best things you can do is go outside. Getting a healthy amount of exposure to sunlight can give you a valuable dose of vitamin D that energizes you and helps you resist the fatiguing effects of SAD. Vitamin D deficiency can be very common during the winter months, so it’s important to get at least 10-30 minutes of sunshine so your skin can absorb enough light to produce Vitamin D.
If it’s too cold to go outside, you can use light therapy boxes as an alternative. These are machines that can mimic outdoor light. These can also be very useful to have if you live in a region with very hot summers where spending too much time outdoors can be exhausting and dehydrating or very cloudy, rainy and cold winters. Before doing any kind of light therapy, you should talk to a doctor.
Aside from regular exposure to sunlight, having a healthy daily routine can help you mitigate the worst of SAD. Take time to exercise, spend time with people you care about, drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals. Set attainable goals: taking on too much could overwhelm you, and not being able to meet your goals could exacerbate your depression.
Article by Austin Brietta