It’s darker in winter. Sometimes in the soul. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically occurring in the winter season, starting around late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) claims that as many as 6 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal depression, though many blow it off as the “winter blues.”
However, according to Theresa M. Peronace, MACP, SAC, Anchor Points Counseling, it is much more than that. She also points out that depression doesn’t look the same with everyone, so knowing the symptoms is crucial. As with any mental health condition, the most effective way of treating SAD is diagnosing it. Here are ten signs and symptoms you should look out for, from The Remedy.
“One common symptom of seasonal affect disorder is oversleeping, or feeling the need to sleep a lot,” explains Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales PA. This is partially due to the fact that during this time of year, your body experiences additional stress and anxiety, which makes you feel more tired and want to sleep more as a result.
Feeling chronically exhausted can also be a sign you are suffering from seasonal depression, and it might be due to environmental factors. “This can often be related to certain vitamin and electrolyte deficiencies that are more profound in winter months,” says Arielle Levitan MD, co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC.
Similar to textbook depression, seasonal depression can manifest itself in a serious emotional decline, explains Jason Woodrum, ACSW at New Method Wellness. “We often talk about there being a season for all emotions in life, and while that is true, what is examined when looking for seasonal depression is a multi year period of disproportional emotional decline that is significantly impacting one’s life,” he explains. This can take the shape of impacting your relationships with those you care about, your professional performance, or even your own ability to feel well and at ease.
Are you suddenly starting to crave specific types of foods, especially ones that aren’t so good for you? Peronace points out that food cravings—often in the form of carbohydrates—are common with SAD. The reason is because carbs can induce the production of serotonin. “Depression is a result of an imbalance of serotonin in our brains,” she explains. Marina Yuabova, DNP, FNP, adds that dark chocolate is another common craving. “It is used as a pick me up since chocolate plays a role in endorphin increase in the brain.” Therefore, people usually crave food like carbs that induce the production of serotonin.
Because of the combination of cravings and lethargy, Peronace points out that many people experiencing SAD will notice the numbers changing on the scale—usually in the form of weight gain.
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According to GP clinical lead Daniel Atkinson at Treated.com, seasonal affective disorder can take several years to recognize, as many people don’t put their symptoms together. “For some, they might just have a depressed state of mind that falls during autumn or winter. The following year, they may not,” Dr. Atkinson points out.
Those who suffer from seasonal depression often stop enjoying activities that usually bring them joy. Psychotherapy can be useful in dealing with seasonal depression, according to Deborah M. Michel, Ph.D., CEDS-S, Regional Clinical Director, Houston and The Woodlands.
If you notice that your sex drive is much lower during the winter months, then you might have SAD. It’s not surprising that low libido and depression are related, considering most of the other symptoms that come along with the blues. According to a study published in American Family Physician, 70 percent of those who suffer from depression report a decreased sex drive.
If you find yourself jealous of bears, who hibernate in the winter, than you might have SAD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social withdrawal is a common symptom.
Do your friends, family, partner, coworkers, or just random people on the streets tend to annoy you more than usual in the winter months? Increased irritability is unsurprisingly a common sign of depression. After all, who wants to be around other people when all they want to do is hibernate like a bear? And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 50 Secrets to Live to 100.