Winters are loved by many for many reasons. Some love the cold weather, for it gives them reason to flaunt their fancy outfits. For some it’s the cuddle season (all the singles out there, we know how it feels!). For others it’s a season of festivities and excitement in general.
However, for many others, winters brings in feelings of gloom, despair and general sadness.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or its appropriate acronym SAD, is a type of depression, which is ushered in by the winter season, hence also often called ‘winter depression’, and even ‘seasonal mood disorder’. It is more than just winter blues, which many people face and is very common and normal.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines SAD as “a mood disorder in which there is a predictable occurrence of major depressive episodes, manic episodes, or both at particular times of the year. The typical pattern is the occurrence of major depressive episodes during the fall or winter months.”
SAD is a mood disorder, wherein the symptoms of depression become more severe and intense in a particular season- winters. Another characteristic feature of SAD is that as it starts with the winter season, it also ends as the season starts fading away.
A very rare type of SAD causes depressive symptoms in early summer or spring.
Around 0.5%-3% of the general population is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Out of those who already suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (also called Clinical Depression), SAD affects around 10%-20% of those individuals and about 25% of individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of SAD
In majority of the cases the symptoms of SAD develop around the end of fall and the beginning of winter. These symptoms are progressive in nature, in the sense that as the season progresses, these symptoms become increasingly intense and severe.
Symptoms of SAD include:-
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed earlier
- Feeling lethargic and tired most of the day, or even for several days at a stretch
- Trouble with sleeping
- Appetite issues
- Feeling hopeless and directionless
- Recurrent suicidal ideations
- Other negative thoughts associated with self-esteem and self-worth
- Weight gain due to overeating and inactivity
- Pervasively sad mood
Tips to Manage SAD
First things first, if you feel the need to seek help and feel like things are getting out of control, you should definitely consult a professional mental health practitioner.
We at Mind Unwynd believe in making mental health support accessible for all, where you can start a conversation when you’re ready. If you feel that professional help will be better for you, have a look at our wide range of professional mental health practitioners, who are always happy to help you.
Apart from seeking professional help, there are a few things you can do on a personal level, which may help ease the symptoms of SAD.
1. Staying Active
We know it’s easier said than done, however staying physically active, and making it a routine helps in fighting many symptoms of SAD. Apart from the many physical benefits of exercise, it also has a positive impact on the mood and mental health of individuals. Many studies and articles by psychologists show a positive relationship between exercise and improved mood, & also mental health in general.
2. Healthy Diet
Having a healthy diet is key to regulating your hormones. Having a healthy regulation of hormones prevents the symptoms of SAD from worsening and hence, prevents the condition from becoming severe and intense.
3. Spending Time with Your Loved Ones
Several studies have already proven the positive correlation between social support and improved mental health. A recent study showed improved mental health because of increased social support during the trying times of covid pandemic. Spending time with your family & friends can have significantly positive impact on your mood, and also ushers in a sense of warmth and care and love, and the feeling that someone’s there for you, to talk to you and help you.
4. Sunlight Exposure
Many people make it a daily practice to soak sun in the winters. However the lack thereof can trigger symptoms of SAD. Vitamin D is believed to regulate the release of serotonin. Serotonin, also called the ‘happy hormone’ is an important hormone in your body which helps in promoting a good mood and feelings of happiness and joy. The lack of Vitamin D can disrupt the regulation of this hormone, which in turn triggers symptoms of SAD. Hence soaking a decent amount of sunlight may help in avoiding this.
American Psychological Association. (2014, December 15). Seasonal affective disorder. http://www.apa.org/topics/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder
Liu, C., Huang, N., Fu, M., Zhang, H., Feng, X. L., & Guo, J. (2021). Relationship Between Risk Perception, Social Support, and Mental Health Among General Chinese Population During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Risk management and healthcare policy, 14, 1843–1853. https://doi.org/10.2147/RMHP.S302521
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020, August 18). Seasonal affective disorder: Medlineplus genetics. MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/seasonal-affective-disorder/.