It’s that time of year again. The leaves are starting to change colors, the sun is setting earlier, and we’re layering up. Although this season comes with much cheer, for many, the end of year slump can often make room for sadness. We’ve all likely heard of the terms seasonal depression and winter blues tossed around before. But, if you have these constant feelings around the cooler months, there is an actual medical term for this experience. You could be dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
“There is still some speculation as to what causes a person to become depressed with the change in climate,” says licensed trauma psychologist and author of Break the Cycle, Dr. Mariel Buqué. “But, it is believed that the culprit is a deficiency in vitamin D,” which is easier to get in the sunnier seasons. “SAD is more common than most people think. I hope that understanding this can help us reduce the stigma around it.”
In honor of World Mental Health Day, below, Dr. Buqué shares more information about SAD and how to combat it.
What is SAD?
“It’s a season-long mood slump that happens during the winter months in places that experience a climate change and reduced sunlight during certain times of the year. They’ve also been called the winter blues for this very reason. Less exposure to the sun,” and therefore vitamin D, “increases our production of melatonin, which is the hormone that helps us feel sleepy. This decreases our serotonin, which in part is a hormone that has been linked to mood.”
How does it differ from general depression?
“SAD happens in direct connection to the seasons changing and people tend to experience symptoms on a yearly basis. Once the seasons change, however, these symptoms tend to subside. But the symptoms themselves are fairly similar to depression, which is why it’s also considered a type of depressive condition. The typical symptoms include fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, feelings of persistent sadness, and loss of interest.”
How do I combat it?
“First and most importantly, if you notice any signs of depression, it can help to connect with a mental health professional that can help you with the mood shifts and help you get on a healthy sleep schedule to stimulate more mood balance.”
Bump up your vitamin D intake
“Second, food intake that is high on vitamin D and being outdoors more are both good ideas during this season. The more you can help your body absorb the nutrients that it’s lacking in, the greater chances you have to kick your mind and body back into a state of balance.”
Lean on light therapy
“Third, use light therapy machines to simulate the light you would get from the sun. It simulates the light from the outdoors and can help to shift your mood into greater balance.”
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