Feeling SAD? You’re not alone.
Most of us have probably experienced the winter blues. The weather starts to get gloomier, the days are shorter, and it takes more and more effort to leave the warmth of your bed in the mornings. All these changes might mean that it is harder to get through your day or even start tasks that you usually finish effortlessly. If these changes are also accompanied by fatigue and a depressed mood, then it is likely that seasonal depression may have set in.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder. People usually feel symptoms of seasonal depression in the winter season when there is less daylight, although some people are impacted in warmer months as well. We can think of seasonal depression as a recurring major depression that happens seasonally, starting and ending at a certain time each year. Some common symptoms include:
- A depressed mood
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling uninterested in previously-enjoyed activities
- Lethargy and fatigue.
- Sleeping too much
- Withdrawing socially
- Struggling to concentrate
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in your appetite
- Unintentional changes in weight
Seasonal depression is more likely to affect individuals aged between 18 and 30, although children and teens can also be affected. Also, people who live farthest away from the equator are most likely to suffer from seasonal depression.
Why does it happen?
We still don’t know the exact cause of the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), although three main factors seem to be involved
Increased levels of melatonin.
Melatonin is involved in regulating our sleep and wake cycles. We produce larger amounts of melatonin in the dark, so our levels rise in the winter months. This leads to more feelings of tiredness and sleepiness, and a lack of daytime energy. Research has found that people with SAD may overproduce this hormone, leading to excessive sleepiness and lethargy in the winter months.
Lower availability of serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is thought to be involved in feelings of happiness and well-being. In winter months, this hormone’s levels may decrease because there is less sunlight available to produce it.
The underproduction of vitamin D
Vitamin D may be linked to serotonin activity. Humans need the presence of sunlight to produce vitamin D, so in darker months we may produce less of it. This reduction in vitamin D has been linked to a reduction in serotonin activity
The link between Seasonal Depression and Addiction
We know that for many people, addiction is associated with mental illnesses, and seasonal depression is no different. Substance abuse is common among people who are battling a depressive disorder; one in five people who have an anxiety or mood disorder also struggle with substance use disorder
When the days get darker and SAD symptoms to start showing up, some people may turn to substances to medicate themselves. Some people may turn to stimulants to counter the lack of energy they feel. Other people may turn to depressants to numb the pain of SAD and escape the negative feelings they experience.
Self-medicating the symptoms of SAD with substances may lead to addiction or worsen the symptoms of SAD. However, there are effective ways to treat SAD
If you suffer from both SAD and addiction, both conditions should be treated at the same time. If you leave seasonal depression untreated and focus on treating substance abuse disorders, it may lead to relapse. Similarly, an untreated substance use disorder may lead to even worse depression symptoms. A treatment plan that addresses all psychiatric disorders will lead to better results. Each of these treatments has been found to be effective in combatting SAD, however, it is always best to speak to a health professional before starting any new medications.
Seasonal depression comes about when we have limited exposure to light. To counter this, one way to treat it is to increase your exposure to light. This form of therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits bright light for at least 20 minutes every day
Antidepressants might be prescribed to help you fight SAD if your doctor thinks they would be effective. These drugs can increase the amount of serotonin available in your brain, which leads to increased feelings of wellness.
Vitamin D supplements
Many people with SAD have insufficient levels of Vitamin D. Supplementing your intake of Vitamin D might help improve symptoms of SAD. Some research has found that taking Vitamin D before winter may help to prevent symptoms of depression. Be sure to take no more than the recommended dose of 50,000 IU per day
Counseling and Therapy
Counseling can provide help and support to people with SAD. Conversations with your counselor might show you new ways of thinking about SAD, and shift some of the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
If you have been struggling to cope these past few months, please know that you are not alone. Seasonal depression affects many of us, and there is help available to help you manage your symptoms. If you are dealing with seasonal depression while on your recovery journey, please contact us today. Our team of counselors and specialists is here to support you on your journey.
We are not saying the struggle isn’t real, but you do not need to go it alone.