What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651) SAD “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons . . .” It generally starts and ends at the same times every year and, more often than not, is during winter months. However, it is more than just not liking winter.

A few weeks ago my daughter told me she had been feeling depressed lately. Thanks to medication and an awesome therapist her depression went away and her anxiety has been more manageable lately. However, I had also noticed that her depression seemed to be back, perhaps not as bad as before, but she definitely seemed more down than usual. I told her she probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder just like I do. “But I don’t dislike winter,” she said. “I actually like the snow, and the cold isn’t that bad.” I explained to her that SAD doesn’t mean you don’t like the snow or cold. It is much more than that. It is an actual disorder. The Mayo Clinic lists possible causes as:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

You may not be affected by the cold. You may love watching the snow, playing in it, going skiing, etc. That doesn’t change the lack of sunlight or other risk factors for getting SAD.

The Mayo Clinic states, “Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the ‘winter blues’ or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.” SAD causes depression and has other symptoms, such as low energy, sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping at all, feeling tired all the time, losing interest in things, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and thoughts of suicide. For me, it is when all my demons come back. I can be totally fine, feeling great, managing my anxiety and the general challenges of life, and as soon as my SAD kicks in (usually around the end of November/beginning of December) the depression hits. I have many of those symptoms I just listed, and I start feeling horrible about myself. I start doubting all the good and believing in the false.

SAD is real and not something that should be brushed away or ignored. Luckily, there are things that can help. Light therapy is a great way to help counter the effects of SAD. I go to a spa that has red light beds and lamps. You can also buy them to have in your own home. Taking extra Vitamin D can also be helpful. Therapy and medication are also always things to consider.

I wanted to write this so people know SAD is more than not liking winter. It is a serious disorder that can be incredibly challenging to live with. But like any disorder or form of mental illness there are always things that can help and give hope.

Take the Time to Help Yourself

Life has been so crazy lately. I feel like I’ve barely had time to breathe. Everything is GOGOGO! all the time, and I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed. I haven’t exercised much at all the past couple of months and have gotten so out of shape. But exercising is something that helps my depression. It helps me feel good, so I decided I have to do it. I have to make the time—for my own sanity and happiness.

I also started light/heat therapy again recently. My goal was to go at least twice a week, but lately it has been hard making it even once. My husband, however, has done a good job of helping me find time that I can go because he knows I need it.

It truly is important to take care of ourselves. It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane. They tell you to put yours on first before you help someone else. You can’t help others if you’re passed out from lack of oxygen. I really do believe that if we are helping ourselves—doing the things that bring strength to our minds and happiness to our hearts—we will live better lives, not just for us, but also for those around us.