"Winter Blues" Might Be Something More Serious
Another image the New Year invokes is that of winter weather, replete with its short days and snowstorms. While the official arrival of winter is 10 days before the turn of the calendar, for many the unofficial start of the coldest season is when the holiday season ends and the new calendar year begins.
Though winter has its afficionados, for many people winter can be a difficult time of year, one characterized by feelings of depression and indifference. For those who find themselves with those feelings each year, the cause could be a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which most commonly begins to occur during late fall, extending into the winter months. In fact, many simply assume the symptoms of SAD are the "winter blues," a common misconception that could be masking a larger issue. However, understanding and recognizing SAD could be the first step for those looking to have a more enjoyable winter.
What is SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that is cyclic, affecting a person during the same season each year. The symptoms of SAD will arrive and go away at the same time each year. As mentioned earlier, the majority of people who suffer from SAD will begin to experience symptoms in late fall, and those symptoms will continue through the winter months.
What are the Symptoms of SAD?
Symptoms of SAD often start out mildly and become more severe as the season progresses. Those symptoms can include:
* Feelings of sadness
* Withdrawal from social activities and situations
* Loss of interest in usual activities
* Feelings of hopelessness
* Weight gain
* Difficulty concentrating
* Craving of carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta
While SAD is most common in late fall and early winter, it can also occur in spring and summer. This is called summer-onset seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms of this type of SAD are, in some cases, the opposite of winter seasonal affective disorder.
* Weight loss
* Poor appetite
What Causes SAD?
It is still uncertain as to the specific causes of SAD. Experts, however, have theorized that lack of sunlight might be a contributing factor. A reduction in sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that influences mood, appetite, sleep, and a host of other behaviors. An imbalance in serotonin is believed to influence mood in a way that leads to depression. That lends credence to the theory that a lack of sunlight and its subsequent depletion of serotonin could be a cause of SAD.
Changes in season can also disrupt the balance of melatonin, a natural hormone that plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
What are Risk Factors for SAD?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a handful of factors that may increase a person's risk of SAD. Those include, but are not limited to:
* Gender. Studies have shown that SAD is more commonly diagnosed among women than men. However, the same research has indicated that men often have more severe symptoms.
* Geography. Where a person lives is also a risk factor for SAD. The further a person lives from the equator, be it north or south, the higher the risk factor for developing SAD. That's likely due to the harsh decrease in sunlight during the winter months in areas far from the equator.
* Family history. In general, depression tends to run in families. Because SAD is a type of depression, family history can also be a risk factor.
Are Treatment Options Available?
First and foremost, persons suspecting they or a loved one are suffering from SAD should consult a physician and get a diagnosis. Persons diagnosed with SAD do have treatment options available to them, including light therapy and medications.