It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter. It’s almost December and the cold polar air masses are pushing down into our neck of the woods as we get closer to the winter season. Sadly, the days are getting shorter and colder. To many of us, winter is the most depressing season of the year. With decreased sunlight, the cold air and snow keeps us from enjoying the outdoors as much as we want too. Even for those of us who enjoy winter activities outside. Those season passes are expensive and you don’t get to go as much as you would like too. Feeling depression during this time of year is normal and we all experience it in one form or another. But some of us may experience it a little more intensely than others in a disorder called SAD.
SAD is an acronym for Seasonal Depressive Disorder. This is a mood disorder that can occur in as many as 4 - 6% of people. Younger people between the ages of 20-30 years and those who already suffer from depression and bi-polar disorder are likely to experience SAD. According to Psychiatrists, SAD is relatively uncommon in people who don’t already experience depression or another mood disorder. SAD is categorized as a sub-type disorder. Meaning that it tends to occur with people who already experience depression because those who have depression experience more intense symptoms during the winter. But that doesn’t mean that we all don’t experience some changes in mood. In fact, most of us experience some form of depressive symptoms during the winter, just not to the extent of SAD.
People who get SAD in the winter may experience symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, oversleeping, irritability, social isolation, and weight gain. Symptoms of SAD are theorized to be due to the lack of light from shorter days and less time spent outside. The decrease in day-light causes a reduced amount of Vitamin D absorption to the body and an increased production of Melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is the hormone in which influences our bodies to become sleepy resulting in increased drowsiness and a tendency to oversleep. Due to this, a person's natural time clock may differ resulting in uneven amounts of sleep that can impact mood. People who already experience depression lack the ability to create enough serotonin in the brain; the hormone that makes us happy. This being a sub-type disorder, symptoms of SAD make depression more intense.
In severe cases of SAD, a person would be prescribed medication. On top of this, they would see a psychiatrist and go through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to improve symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to help a lot with SAD symptoms from practicing positive thinking. Constantly replacing negative thoughts with positive ones exercises the brain to change mood on its own. Studies on the theory that reduced light causes SAD, point toward using light therapy to improve symptoms. Light therapy is when a person increases outdoor activities during the day and sit next to an artificial light box when indoors. Studies have shown a positive correlation between mood and light exposure.
For the rest of us who experience mild symptoms of depression during the winter and could use a pick-me-up; just increasing outdoor activities could make a significant impact to our mood. If you aren’t into skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling, just going for a walk would be beneficial. If it’s too cold to do so, try exercising at a facility or at home. Exercise releases endorphins which is a chemical that helps relieve pain and sooth our bodies. Do this with a friend too, human interaction can also help to improve mood and well-being. Winter is tough and the cold isn’t very enjoyable, but we all need some socialization and sunlight to make it more bearable.
© 2019 Meteorologist Alex Maynard
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