Do you start feeling down in the winter months? You aren’t alone. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, presents as a variety of depression-like symptoms caused by your body getting out of its biological rhythm. Winter-onset SAD (the most common type) results from your body “losing its bearings” during the period of reduced daylight. Without sunlight to give your hormones a clue about the natural dawn-dusk cycle, your body’s chemical levels become unbalanced.
Especially if your work routine means arriving at and leaving the office when it’s dark outside, your body may be producing too much melatonin or too little serotonin, hormones involved in your body’s sleep-wake cycle. This kind of imbalance produces the slew of possible symptoms:
- Fatigue and drop in energy levels
- A tendency to oversleep
- Change in appetite, like cravings
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and anxiety
- Antisocial behavior
- Heightened sensitivity to social rejection
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Physical problems, like headaches
While 10 to 20 percent of people in the United States suffer some SAD symptoms (called the “winter blues”), only four to six percent of people meet all the criteria of SAD diagnoses. SAD is more common in women than in men and generally shows in people at least 20 years of age. The risk increases for adults with age or for those that live in regions where winters are long and harsh.
Luckily, there are ways to combat SAD. Melatonin supplements and light therapy (intentionally exposing yourself to more sunlight) are ways of treating SAD. Melatonin is the hormone that your body starts producing when it gets dark in order to prepare you for sleep. Ensuring that your melatonin levels rise and fall on the proper timeline can offset SAD. Light therapy involves using daylight-simulating devices for certain periods of time each day to reach the same goal, and exposure to actual sunlight will do this naturally.
Antidepressants may also be used in some cases, as many antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), work by helping to restore serotonin hormone balance.
If you have concerns about seasonal affective disorder or believe you are experiencing symptoms, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider. Visit our website or call (563) 584-3000 to schedule an appointment with Medical Associates today.
Note: SAD may share many symptoms with major depression or dysthymia. Call a doctor IMMEDIATELY if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255
Medical Associates 24-hour HELP Nurse: 1 (800) 325-7442