Winter Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Winter depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health condition that occurs with a change in seasonal patterns. After the onset of winter, some people might feel moody more often and irritated throughout the day. These symptoms might be related to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Seasonal depression symptoms might be similar to the symptoms of non-seasonal depression. What makes SAD different from non-seasonal depression is that symptoms of SAD occur only in particular seasons. While a person with depression will experience depressive symptoms throughout the year, a person with SAD will experience the symptoms during winter and he/she will feel better and normal during the spring and summer.
Anyone needs to experience SAD symptoms for 2 years to be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Though the person will feel happy, better, and completely normal during other seasons, a person with seasonal depression has to undergo effective treatment to prevent the depressive episodes from getting worse over time.
- Feeling depressed most of the day and every day
- Feeling disturbed or agitated
- Sleeping more hours than usual
- Craving for carbohydrates and more sugar
- Weight gain
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Most people with SAD experience major depressive disorder, but around 20 percent of them may have bipolar disorder.
People who are living far away from the equator stand a major chance of getting affected by winter depression. Women are more likely to experience SAD symptoms when compared to men. Few patients show milder symptoms of SAD and they are diagnosed with Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective disorder.
Is it SAD or just winter blues?
When you get less exposure to sunlight, you might feel gloomy or moody. Less exposure to sunlight might affect our mood due to the lower levels of serotonin produced. If you experience the symptoms of SAD every day and if your symptoms occur with changes in the seasons, then you need to consult a doctor. Your doctor will evaluate you based on the symptoms you have and prescribe the right treatment if needed.
Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms you experience. Also, if you are already diagnosed with bipolar or major depressive disorder, then the treatment options change accordingly. Typically, SAD is treated with antidepressants and light therapy. Light therapy is a way of treating SAD by using artificial light.
Antidepressants may not show positive results or change in some people. Also, long time use of antidepressants may not be recommended. Brain stimulation therapy like TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) helps in regulating the mood of patients with depressive symptoms. It is completely non-invasive and safe. Though TMS is not an FDA-approved treatment for treating SAD, it is an FDA-approved method for treating major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant disorders. Talk to your doctor to decide if TMS is right for you.
Few tips for better mental health that you could try during winter:
Do any kind of activity or exercise for about 30 minutes every day to stay active. Exercise/activity helps to activate dopamine and serotonin which regulates our mood.
2. Maintain good interpersonal communication:
Talking to someone or listening to others and maintaining a cordial relationship with everyone will help you to stay in a good mood most of the time. Also, reach out to help if you are stressed or having any kind of violent thoughts that affects your daily life.
3. Meditate or take a break:
Meditation, doing light exercise, or taking a break from long hours of work will help you to change your mood and relax. You will also feel less irritated if you take enough time for yourself in between your busy schedule.
4. Avoid unhealthy eating habits:
Refrain from eating junk foods, foods high in carbohydrates, and sugar. Also, avoid fatty or fried food items. Eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods to keep you active throughout the day.
5. Get enough sleep:
Quality and quantity of sleep are important. Hence, ensure that you get 6-7 hours of sound sleep every day.
Try to go out and get as much as sunlight you can. Sunlight is important for your body to get the required amount of Vitamin D and improve your immunity.
7. Seek medical attention:
Despite all the tips you follow, some of you might still experience continuous episodes of seasonal depressive symptoms. In case you feel you need help, please reach out to your doctor and discuss your symptoms to start the treatment as soon as possible. SAD is treatable and with the right treatment plan, you can very well get back to your normal self and complete your daily activities without any hassle.