During these dark and cloudy winter months, some people get what you might call “the winter blues.” But did you know it could actually be a serious thing called seasonal affective disorder? It’s a type of depression linked to changes in the seasons, which are usually late autumn and winter, with their short days and decreased sunlight hours. Today, we will be discussing several facts on seasonal affective disorder, and find out why, during wintertime, so many of us get SAD.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
As quickly mentioned in the introduction, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression. We’ll break it down for you. Seasonal means it’s related to the seasons, which you probably gathered by now. Affective means it’s related to your emotional wellbeing. Disorder means that that emotional well-being is not up to scratch. Most people who have SAD get it during the changes from summer to autumn/winter but some people experience the opposite pattern experiencing the symptoms when winter changes into spring/summer.
How do you get SAD?
Some scholars have investigated the matter, and a whole lot of different causes have been suggested. One of the main things believed to influence SAD is the lack of sunlight during the winter months. A lack of sunlight can lead to vitamin-D deficiency, as sunlight hitting your skin is an important part of your body’s way to produce vitamin-D (source) . This is so important because vitamin-D deficiency has been linked to depression (source: Angling) and SAD specifically too (Stewart et al.). This is not to say that this is the only cause, or that it’s always this if you have seasonal affective disorder. Other possible suggested causes are the decreased availability of fresh produce (also linked to vitamins.)
What are the symptoms of SAD?
The symptoms of sad are, in a number of ways, quite similar to that of other types of depression. They may range from losing interest in the things you normally enjoy, to feeling depressed most of the day almost every day, to problems with sleeping, appetite or concentration. It can also include feeling slow, sluggish or easily agitated, but also hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness (source: mayoclinic).
While there are many symptoms that overlap, there are some symptoms more common in winter-SAD and summer-SAD respectively. The ones more common in winter-SAD include oversleeping, low energy, and craving foods high in carbohydrates. Some symptoms more common in summer-SAD include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, and agitation or increased anxiety. Please note that it’s different for every person, and that some symptoms might occur outside of their expected circumstances. Different people will often have a different combination of symptoms.
I think I might have SAD, what do I do?
Some studies suggest that SAD specifically can be triggered by vitamin deficiency (source: Stewart et al.) by for example, the lack of sufficient sunlight or the reduced availability of fresh produce during winter months. If your symptoms have occurred in more than one year, and even if it didn’t, and you are worried, it’s best to consult your family doctor or general practitioner. Therefore eating and drinking a balanced diet, while not a cure, might help relieving some of the symptoms. Vitamin supplements might also be an option.
Some others do better with phototherapy (light therapy). This uses special lamps which mimic the spectrum (composition of waves) found in daylight, which helps your skin produce extra, or a more normal amount of, vitamin-D. This could decrease your symptoms.
However, be responsible and ask for medical health advise first. Important to know, while SAD is by no means less serious or more serious in anyway than other types of depression such as dysthymia or long-term depression. Everyone experiences these things differently. SAD clearly has different triggering circumstances, and any advise and tips might not work for it or any other type. We are also not medical professionals, so we wholeheartedly advise you to seek out professional help if you are worried about your well-being.
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Anglin, Rebecca ES, et al. “Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis.” The British journal of psychiatry 202.2 (2013): 100-107.
Stewart, Alan E., Kathryn A. Roecklein, Susan Tanner, Michael G. Kimlin. Possible contributions of skin pigmentation and vitamin D in a polyfactorial model of seasonal affective disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 2014; 83 (5): 517