The combination of fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures can cause many people to experience symptoms that can resemble depression. For some, the symptoms are relatively
brief, such as a shorter temper or increased sense of lethargy that can accompany a dreary winter day.
For others, the winter months can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. This disorder is a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically in the winter months, and retreats during the rest of the year. About 5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the symptoms are similar to depression, vary from mild to severe, and include feeling of sadness or depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite (usually craving and eating more starches and sweets) with corresponding weight gain, changes
in sleep (typically sleeping too much), fatigue despite increase in sleep, increase in restlessness or slowed movements and slowed speech, feeling worthless or guilty, trouble concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.
The APA offers these tips to manage SAD:
- Experience as much daylight as possible since lack of sun exposure is part of what causes the disorder. Some patients benefit from a light therapy box that emits very bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays). It usually requires 20 minutes or more a day, typically first thing in the morning, during the winter.
- Focus on healthy eating, especially avoiding foods that are loaded with extra calories and sugar.
- Staying connected, either through volunteering, group activities or spending time with family and friends.
- Stay physically active as much as possible. Research indicates that exercise can be effective in combating the impacts of SAD.
- Seek help from a mental health professional if you continue to struggle with feelings of depression. With the right treatment, SADcan be a manageable condition.