Winter takes it’s Toll, More than the “Winter Blues”

How many of you are not the biggest fan of Winter in the Midwest? Show of hands? Did you know that there’s a name for that?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (you can buy this thing at Costco), psychotherapy and medications.

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. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

Symptoms

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Major Depression

Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on seasons. So symptoms of major depression may be part of SAD, such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

Irritability
Tiredness or low energy
Problems getting along with other people
Hypersensitivity to rejection
Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
Oversleeping
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Weight gain
Spring and summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder

In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

When to see a therapist

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

Causes
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:

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.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include:

Being female. SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have more-severe symptoms.
Age. Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD, and winter SAD is less likely to occur in older adults.
Family history. People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.

Complications

Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated. These can include:

Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Social withdrawal
School or work problems
Substance abuse
Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.

The DSM-5 criteria for diagnosing depression with a seasonal pattern includes having these experiences for at least the last two years:

  1. Depression that begins during a specific season every year
  2. Depression that ends during a specific season every year
  3. No episodes of depression during the season in which you experience a normal mood
  4. Many more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over the lifetime of your illness

Treatment:

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. Psychotherapy can help you:

  1. Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
  2. Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD
  3. Learn how to manage stress

Light therapy: In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.

Before you purchase a light therapy box, talk with your therapist about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that’s safe and effective.

Here are some for reference!

Costco (they usually have these in the pharmacy section): http://www.costco.com/.product.100087417.html?cm_sp=RichRelevance-_-categorypageHorizontalTop-_-CategoryTopProducts&cm_vc=categorypageHorizontalTop%7CCategoryTopProducts

Amazon (If you buy everything online because otherwise you’d have to cart small people around like me): http://www.amazon.com/Verilux-VT10WW1-HappyLight-Personal-Portable/dp/B00K08ZDBI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453855950&sr=8-1&keywords=happy+light+box