Winter weather means shorter days, chillier temperatures… and therefore, spending quite a bit less time outside. Some people might welcome the opportunity to hibernate—but for others, it can exacerbate feelings of fatigue, sluggishness, and even depression.
If you find yourself feeling sad during the winter, you may be suffering from something known as “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD, which is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. And you’re not alone—SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans.
It may be tempting to brush off your SAD symptoms as a case of the “winter blues,” or to try to talk yourself out of your seasonal funk. But it’s important to know that there are therapies out there that work to treat SAD—and consulting with a mental health professional isn’t a bad idea, either.From symptoms to simple ways to support your mindset for the better, let’s break it down.
Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. According to the American Psychiatric Association, this disorder is identified as a type of depression – Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.
For those who experience SAD, they start to feel depressed when the seasons change. For most people, symptoms usually begin in autumn, getting worse throughout the winter. They normally pass with the onset of spring.
Most symptoms of seasonal affective disorder appear during late fall or early winter, letting up in spring and summer. Some people find that they experience seasonal depression symptoms that begin in spring and summer, though this is much less common. In both cases, symptoms start out as mild and get progressively worse as the season continues on.
Signs and symptoms of SAD include:
Symptoms specific to winter seasonal depression, often include: 1. Oversleeping 2. Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates 3. Weight gain 4. Tiredness or low energy
Because other types of depression, like major depression, and other mental health conditions can closely resemble SAD, it can sometimes be difficult to properly diagnose. If you think you are suffering from seasonal depression, you’ll want to get a thorough evolution by your provider. Part of this evaluation should involve a physical exam, where your provider can make sure your depression isn’t a result of an underlying health problem.
They may also run lab tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) to ensure your thyroid is functioning properly, as an underactive thyroid can cause depression. The last and arguably most important aspect of the evaluation will be the psychological evaluation, where your provider asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns to check for signs of depression. Sometimes, though not always, they may have you fill out a questionnaire for this part of the evaluation.
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may involve medication, psychotherapy, and light therapy. In addition, there are a few lifestyle and at-home remedies that may help with your condition.
If you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to talk to your health care provider or a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. Together, you can develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
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