Do you find yourself feeling down in the winter months? If so, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a mood disorder characterized by recurring depression in autumn and winter, separated by periods of no depression in spring and summer.
- About 3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime
- Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them only slightly depressed, but still able to live their life without major disruptions
- People with SAD make up about 10% of all depression cases
The cause of SAD is unknown, but one theory is that it is related to the amount of melatonin in the body which increases when we are not getting enough sunlight which in turn causes us to be sleepier. You may also have a higher risk of experiencing SAD if you have a family history of depression.
The Symptoms of SAD are as follows:
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Hypersomnia or a tendency to oversleep
- A change in appetite
- Weight gain
- A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- A drop in energy level
- Decreased physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Avoidance of social situations
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor first to rule out any other causes for your symptoms.
Ways to Practise Self-Care and Ease Symptoms of SAD:
- Light Therapy: Also referred to as Bright Light Therapy (BLT) or Phototherapy, an intense artificial light is used which causes a chemical change in the brain that improves mood and helps improve other symptoms of SAD.
- Exercise: Exercise, especially in the morning and outdoors, is beneficial to decreasing SAD symptoms and improving your mood.
- Socialize and do something you enjoy: Connecting with others and having fun is important for self-care.
- Sleeping: Make sure you are getting enough sleep; aim for 8 hours per night as inadequate sleep can worsen the symptoms of SAD.
- Eating healthy foods: Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables during winter months.
- Medications and Psychotherapy: You can also talk to your doctor about anti-depressant medication in addition to counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an approach that is used to help with SAD by providing new ways of thinking about low mood and energy levels.
Blog post by Vanessa Amundson, Volunteer.