***Disclaimer: The following, as with any article on this website, is not to be construed as medical advice. It is simply my own exploration of a topic with links to additional information. Please consult with a medical professional for this and any health concern.
Hello everyone! I hope your new year is off to a good start!
For this month's post, I'd like to focus on something that affects many people this time of year: Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D. I call it the "winter blues."
This syndrome seems common among people I know (including myself). How many memes have I seen on social media about how January is unendingly dreary, long, and awful? Perhaps talking about it will help us disrupt some negativity!
What is seasonal affective disorder?Seasonal Affective Disorder is type of mood disorder where specific symptoms are worse during the darker months of the year—fall and winter. It is not a standalone disease, but rather a seasonal component of major depression.
Depression may include feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty focusing or concentrating on anything for longer periods of time, low energy levels or feeling sluggish, losing interest in activities previously found enjoyable, and sleep and appetite issues.
The seasonal componentThe winter seasonal component to major depression includes sleeping too much, being overly tired (even with extra sleep), craving more carbs than usual, gaining weight, and going into hibernation mode by withdrawing from people, avoiding social plans, etc.
Apparently there is a summer seasonal version, too! I was actually surprised to find this out, but according to the Mayo Clinic, summer seasonal affective disorder may include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, weight loss and a lack of appetite.
What causes seasonal affective disorder?There are several theories about why symptoms of major depression get amplified seasonally, especially in winter.
One of them is that your circadian rhythm gets messed up because of the lack of sunlight. In short, your body's clock doesn't really know what time it is, which can cause a disruption in mood.
Another cause is seratonin and melatonin levels not changing the way they should during specific times of the year. These brain hormones are important to the regulation of mood and sleep. For example, seratonin would naturally drop off during the winter, but a study of people suffering from S.A.D. shows that they don't experience that expected drop, which can contribute to a mood imbalance. And melatonin levels may be negatively impacted by changes in light exposure.
And with reduced sunlight, vitamin D levels can tank, leaving people deficient in this necessary nutrient that regulates not only bone health but also neuromuscular function and mood levels. In some studies, people with low levels of vitamin D have been found to suffer from anxiety or depression. Potentially related, it is said that people farther from the equator are more likely to experience S.A.D. Medical science doesn't fully understand this correlation, given the number of studies out there about it, but there does appear to be one.
What can you do to alleviate depression / seasonal affective disorder?Seeing a doctor would be the first step in order to get a diagnosis. They will most likely ask a series of questions about things like changes in sleep and eating habits, changes in daily activities, family history, including history of depression, severity of the symptoms, etc. A doctor may also run some blood panels to see what your vitamin D and hormone levels look like.
Treatments may include medication and psychotherapy. Medication would help balance brain hormones, if necessary, and counseling can help with behavioral changes. In addition to these, sufferers may experience some relief with the addition of Vitamin D (if blood tests show it to be low), light boxes or other tools to help with the lack of natural light, and mild exercise, such as walking outdoors in the middle of the day.
|Photo by sergey Svechnikov on Unsplash|
I definitely am affected by the lack of light—no doubt about it! For instance, here in Pittsburgh, January has been so gloomy that we have literally had NO days of sunshine this month. NONE. Unsurprisingly, my mood has been in the dumps frequently this month. I have a tendency to want to sleep too much, eat more carbs, and hibernate. Lately, there have been whole weeks where I have not left the house, which, I work from home, so my hibernation tendencies are amplified.
My own experience with seasonal affective disorder
I'm starting to feel a bit better, though. I've been making sure my vitamin D levels are in the normal range with the help of my doctor and some supplements. To combat the gloom, my husband has installed brighter light bulbs in the house. We joke around about turning on the sun inside the house, but you can do a lot with natural light spectrum bulbs or lamps.
Another thing that really helps me is citrusy smells! Eating an orange, drinking some orange juice, or running citrus oils like lemon or tangerine in an aromatherapy diffuser instantly lifts my mood. It's like, if happiness had a smell, it'd be lemon or orange, to me. Anyone else feel like this?
At any rate, I'm coping.
ConclusionI hope that you are not affected by the winter blahs, but if you are impacted by seasonal affective disorder, you are not alone! Know that you can do something about it and not be resigned to suffering through it. There is support out there. I hope this article is helpful in getting you started, and I'll drop some more resources below this article.
Until February, my bee-peeps, all the best! 💛🐝