Community First Clinical Contributor to this story: Estela Chapa, MSN, RN
Does your mood or energy level tend to match the weather outside? Many people experience a natural ebb and flow with the changing seasons, but some face a more significant challenge known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is more serious than the “Winter Blues”; it is a form of clinical depression.
Let’s explore the ins and outs of SAD, including its symptoms, causes, and coping strategies.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, often abbreviated as SAD, is a type of depression closely linked to seasonal changes. It typically occurs during the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter and natural sunlight is scarce.
SAD is a serious mental health condition that can have a profound impact on a person’s overall well-being.
People with SAD experience a range of symptoms that often interfere with their daily lives and relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you may have SAD if you experience certain symptoms that start and stop during specific months and that occur for at least two consecutive years.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but common symptoms of SAD include:
- Persistent sadness and low mood: Feeling down or hopeless most of the day.
- Fatigue and low energy: A noticeable lack of energy and a constant feeling of tiredness.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Insomnia, sleeping more than usual, struggling to get out of bed in the morning.
- Appetite and weight changes: Cravings and weight gain.
- Difficulty concentrating: Trouble focusing on and completing tasks.
Causes of SAD
The exact causes of SAD are not fully understood, but several factors are thought to contribute to its development. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, less sunlight and shorter days are thought to be linked to a chemical change in the brain and may contribute to SAD. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, also may be linked to SAD.
If you have a family history of depression or live up north — like in Alaska or New England — you may be at a higher risk for SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are diagnosed more often than men. SAD usually starts in adulthood and the risk factor increases with age. Low vitamin D levels can also contribute to SAD.
How to Manage SAD
- Call Your Doctor: If you are depressed, it’s important to seek professional help. Community First Members can make an appointment with their PCP or make an appointment with a mental health provider without a referral. If you’re a Member and need help making an appointment, call us at 1-800-434-2347. Help is available.
- Make a Treatment Plan: Make a treatment plan with your provider and stick to it. Attend all appointments with your doctor or therapist as scheduled. If you’re taking medication, take it as prescribed and always talk to your doctor about any side effects you’re experiencing.
- Exposure to Sunlight: Spending time outside or near a window can help relieve symptoms.
- Self-Care Matters: Take good care of yourself. Try to get enough sleep and exercise (even if it’s going for a walk outside). Make healthy choices when it comes to meals and snacks. Avoid alcohol and drugs; they can make depression worse.
- Manage Stress: Consider yoga, tai chi, or meditation for relaxation.
- Connect with Others: While it may be challenging to socialize when you’re feeling down, try to connect with people you enjoy being around. Spend time with friends or family members who are supportive, good listeners, and can make you laugh. If loved ones offer to help you, let them.
- Community First Members can join our Healthy Mind Behavioral Health Program at no cost to get help finding a mental health provider and other resources. You can join Healthy Mind by taking our Health Assessment. If you need help, email email@example.com.
- Visit our website CommunityFirstResources.com, to find help in your area, including free mental health resources.