Do you tend to feel down and out during dreary weather? Or, does it really hit you hard when the clocks fall back?
It might not be depression – you just might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. for short.
How many people are affected?
S.A.D. affects about 5% of Americans – but many people don’t realize they have it and go untreated.
A friend of mine who is a horse trainer was used to spending hours outside in the sun during long summer days. But when winter hit and she spent many days inside due to cold or rainy weather, she felt devastated.
‘I had no idea what was wrong with me,’ she said.
Finally, someone told her about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that’s when she asked her doctor about it. She discovered what had been plaguing her during those long winter months indoors!
How do you know if you have S.A.D.?
Seasonal Affective Disorder may look very similar to depression.
Symptoms may include:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble concentrating
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Weight gain
- Feeling sluggish
Why does it happen?
Though the specific cause of S.A.D is unknown at this time, there are some contributing factors, such as:
- Your circadian rhythm: A reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock.
- Changes in serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, triggering S.A.D.
- Changes in melatonin levels: The change in season can also confuse the brain’s melatonin levels, the chemical that plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Ways to combat S.A.D.
Even if you think you may have this condition, you don’t have to let it get you down!
After talking to your doctor, below are some ways you might combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Use light therapy: According to Consumer Reports, light therapy helps sufferers 50% of the time. Bright-light therapy involves sitting in front of a special lamp that produces up to 10,000 lux of light for about 30 minutes each day during the winter months with the least sunlight.
- Take a long walk: Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser says, ‘If you have SAD and it’s relatively mild, relief might be as simple as a good long walk to start your day.
- Make your environment brighter: Open the blinds, turn on all the lights, and be sure to go outdoors when the sun is out.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise can definitely be a big mood booster. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and more if you can.
- Socialize: When you’re feeling down, sometimes the last thing you want to do is be around people. But, according to doctors, socializing can give you an added mood boost!
- Take supplements: Keep in mind, some alternative treatments may not be safe when taken in conjunction with other medication, so definitely talk to your doctor before starting a supplement regimen of any kind. Some supplements that may help S.A.D. include St. John’s wort, SAMe, Melatonin, and Omega-3 fatty acids, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Take a trip: If you have the ability to take trips in warm sunny places during the gloomiest parts of the year, by all means do so! (Check out where to get amazing deals on travel on our travel page here.)
If you have a more severe case of S.A.D., your doctor might want to prescribe antidepressant medication during the fall and winter months or refer you to a therapist to help you cope with symptoms and rule out anything more serious.
There may be some truth to the idea of the ‘winter blues’ after all. Be sure to be proactive and take steps to improve your mood instead of letting the weather get the better of you!