By Linda Buhr, R.N.
If you are feeling tired, lack motivation in following up on the promise you made yourself to eat less and exercise more in the New Year, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.
SAD is a type of depression that seems to be related to the amount of daylight people are exposed to. It is estimated that 2-3 people out of every 100 people are affected by SAD. About 15 out of 100 people have less severe symptoms called the “winter blues”. It is more common in women than men, and people usually begin to develop symptoms in their 20’s. Elderly people are at a lower risk and it is much less common for children to experience SAD. Geography tends to play a role with SAD being more prevalent in northern climates. Areas in the world that have overcast weather much of the time, also experience this malady. SAD occurs in the winter months, usually between October and April.
The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but is believed to be caused by an individual’s exposure to sunlight. The nerve centers in the brain that control our body rhythms and moods are stimulated by the amount of light entering the eyes. This affects serotonin levels in our brain. Serotonin has a direct influence on our moods. During the night, melatonin is produced, which is thought to make people drowsy. In the morning the light of the sun causes the gland to stop producing melatonin. Hence, on dull winter days, not enough light is received to trigger this waking up process causing people to struggle with getting up in the mornings.
Other symptoms of SAD include:
- Lethargy & fatigue
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Sadness, anxiety, and despair
- Changes in appetite with cravings for sweets and starches
- Weight gain
- Headaches and irritability
- Desire for increased sleep
Individuals who do not normally experience depression can be affected by SAD. When experiencing these symptoms it is important to see your Health Care Provider to rule out any other medical conditions.
The most popular treatment of SAD is light therapy, and in severe cases prescribing an antidepressant. Before starting light therapy it is wise to speak to your health care provider. Symptoms often subside in a few days, but may reappear if the treatment is stopped.
The good news is that regular exercise, particularly spending time outside during the day, even if it is cloudy is beneficial. If you are not that brave, exercise daily, making every effort to maintain a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Maintain relationships with friends and family.
Last but not least, know that you are not alone. Many of us experience some type of SAD during these cold winter months. January is more than half over, days are getting longer, and before we know it we will be enjoying the pleasure that spring and summer bring us.