Do you get down, really down every winter? Do you have trouble understanding why that is? You’re not alone. This happens to many people and is fairly common. Here’s some information that may be helpful:
Depressions that occur during the winter and disappear during the summer are known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. The symptoms are just the same as the symptoms of depression. The symptoms vary from one person to the other but can affect relationships and the ability to function well.
Cause – We don’t know the exact cause. One theory is that people with slow biological clocks can’t catch up with the day on short winter days. The further from the equator and the closer to the North Pole, the more severe the symptoms.
Symptoms – As the days get shorter, some people begin experiencing depression. For some people, the symptoms are fairly mild. Others may see their tempers getting short, and experience day-long fatigue. Common symptoms include sad mood, loss of interest in activities, sleeping more, craving sweets, gaining weight, and having a hard time concentrating.
Effects – The COVID virus has affected our lives in countless ways. We are social beings living in isolation. So many of our activities are affected; traveling, eating out, going to our favorite stores, and for some of us working. We really appreciate those teachers. Days are less structured. Many of us are grieving. We live in fear of what could happen to us or to loved ones. Did you ever realize how much you would miss hugs? Those extra calories and daily drinks don’t help. Clearly, all this contributes to seasonal depression.
Frequency – As many as six out of every 100 people in the U.S. experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms are more common in women than in men. The average SAD episode lasts for five months, so we’re talking about five months of the year every year, recurrently suffering from these symptoms.
When should I see a doctor? – If you have difficulty functioning at school or work or if your symptoms interfere with your ability to interact with your family or others during the winter months, you should talk to your doctor about a referral to a psychologist or find a psychologist yourself.
A psychologist can help you identify problem areas and then develop an action plan for changing them. Psychologists are trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies to help adjust your goals, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues. They may also talk to you about a referral to a physician such as a psychiatrist or family doctor to consider medication.
Treatment – Results suggest that treating someone initially with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, CBT, is the most effective treatment in the long term. The therapist works with the patient on two types of skills: behavioral (doing) skills and cognitive (thinking) skills. The behavioral skills involve identifying, scheduling, and doing pleasurable activities every day in the winter. Cognitive skills include recognizing depressing thoughts and focusing on realistic coping statements. Over time, these behaviors can counteract the down, lethargic mood and the tendency to give in to “hibernation” that is common in SAD.
One treatment for SAD is light therapy (i.e., daily exposure to bright artificial light). Immediate effects may be positive, but long-term effects may be an issue compared to approaches such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Antidepressant medications are also widely regarded as a valid line of treatment for SAD, especially in conjunction with behavioral therapy.
The good news is that effective treatments are available.
American Psychological Association
Seasonal Affective Disorder Sufferers Have More Than Just Winter Blues
Speaking of Psychology: How to know if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder