The winter months often feel like the longest ones of the year. You may feel sluggish, tired, and unmotivated, not to mention overwhelmed by the mountains of homework being assigned by teachers. However, this could be more than just a case of the “winter blues”...
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to the changes in seasons. Most people with SAD experience symptoms that start in the fall and continue through the winter. The most common symptoms of SAD are feelings of depression during the winter months, oversleeping, fatigue, and weight gain.
Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in the spring or summer. The symptoms associated with summer-onset SAD include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, weight loss, and anxiety.
The specific cause of SAD is unknown; however, there are several factors that come into play. For those experiencing winter-onset SAD, the change in daylight hours can disrupt your circadian rhythm (biological clock), which can lead to feelings of depression. In addition, the decreased levels of sunlight trigger a drop in serotonin (the hormone that causes happiness) levels. Regardless of whether a person’s seasonal depression presents itself in the fall/winter or spring/summer, any change in season can disrupt the body’s balance of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
So, how do you cope with Seasonal Depression? SUA’s health teacher Ms. Williams says that the biggest factors that go into seasonal depression are sleep, exercise, time outside, and diet. She told us, “The best way to help manage seasonal depression is often by changing your daily routine not necessarily drugs or therapies like most other mental disorders. Making sure you get enough sleep and stay active can drastically change how you feel.”
Ms. Williams particularly emphasizes sleeping as a coping mechanism because she says, “many SUA students - and high school students in general - are very busy in the winter and with the large homework load, are up to very late hours.”
Although SAD is largely due to decreased serotonin levels, a lack of melatonin (another hormone) plays a role. Melatonin is produced from our interaction with sunlight and our sleep, so in the winter, it is crucial that we get enough sleep to make up for the lack of sunlight.
While SAD may be only for a few months every year, and is typically easily treatable, it may be connected to more severe mental illnesses such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder. If SAD lasts for more than 6-7 months or you start to develop suicidal thoughts or actions, seek help from a licensed medical official. In these cases, antidepressant drugs or different therapies can be more beneficial forms of treatment.