Winter Blues or Something More? Learn the Signs of Season Affective Disorder

Many people experience the winter blues; a feeling of sadness, annoyance and reduced motivation transitioning from the warmer season to a colder one. For many in the Northern Hemisphere, winter blues in reaction to colder, longer days, less sunlight and more isolation is more of a short period of adjusting to the changes in season. But for some, the change of seasons brings an mental health diagnosis more than a reaction to the change of seasons. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is type of depression experienced during a a specific time of year, with symptoms often beginning to present in September and October, through the winter, with the most intense symptoms occurring in January and February. Many people wonder, what is the difference between SAD and depression. And the answer pretty straightforward: SAD is depression that begins in the fall and lasts through the spring. In contrast, depression can occur any time of the year, and may not follow a distinct seasonal pattern. Interesting to note, women experience SAD at higher rates compared to men. 

Symptoms of depression and SAD include: 

  • Low energy and experiencing emotions such as sadness, guilt, or depressed
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low motivation, low energy, fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping habits, needing more or needing less
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight ( loss or increase)
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Problems concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (immediately contact a healthcare professional for support and evaluation).

Experiencing many of the above symptoms for more days than not, lasting more than two weeks and interfering with your roles and responsibilities at work, home and socially, indicates a mental health and physical health issues requiring support, assessment and intervention.

If you’ve read to this point and you notice you are experiencing many of the symptoms above, here is the good news: SAD and depression are treatable conditions and labeling and identifying what you are experiencing is the first step to managing your mental health and well-being.

Here are a few recommendations to start taking care of your mental health:

  1. Reach out to a healthcare professional for evaluation and support. Your primary care physician or OB/GYN, and/or mental health therapist/psychologist will be important professionals to help create a treatment plan to manage your depression.
  2. Create a Routine and Structure Your Day Around Important Self-Care Activities. Stick to a routine, get up and go to bed around the same time each day. Stay hydrated and nourished, move your body and get outside daily, yes even when it’s cold. Bundle up and go for a quick walk. And so important keep your alcohol use to a minimum.
  3.  Schedule Joyful Activities. Being a parent can mean a lot of responsibility, productivity and work. As important as it is to take care of your responsibilities, it is equally important to make time, even in small amounts for joyful and meaningful activities. As tough as it may be, take time each day for small moments of joy-even a few minutes to do something that brings you a sense of calm and enjoyment.
  4. Treatment Options for SAD/Depression. There is a no-one size fits all model of treatment for depression, however, people who have depression and engage in treatment options that combine talk therapy, behavioral activation, and if needed medication, find successful strategies to manage depression. And one additional treatment for those diagnosed with SAD, light therapy, which a mental health professional can help and make recommendations.

© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2020

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