Feeling a little SAD lately?
It’s okay, you aren’t alone. SAD isn’t just an emotion, it’s also an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that is impacted by seasonal changes. For most, SAD hits hardest around the Fall and Winter seasons but eases by the time Spring and Summer come around. To be diagnosed with SAD, you must first meet the criteria for Major Depression. Symptoms of Winter pattern SAD include low energy, hypersomnia, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”) (1). One interesting risk factor for SAD is geographic location. For example, only 1% of the Florida population suffers from SAD, while 9% of the population in Alaska is affected. People who live farther north or south from the equator have a higher risk than those who live close to the equator. While the exact cause for SAD is unknown, there are a few interesting contributors that may give us an indication of the underline cause.
Extended periods of darkness may lead to an overproduction of melatonin
You may recognize melatonin as the “sleep” hormone. As the day light fades, melatonin production increases. Shorter days may lead to people with SAD feeling sleepier and more lethargic than normal.
Individuals with SAD may produce less vitamin D
A deficiency in vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine” vitamin, may negatively impact serotonin production. Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression.
Individuals with SAD may have trouble regulating serotonin
One study found that people who experience SAD had higher serotonin transporter proteins in winter months, leading to less serotonin available for positive mood regulation.
Even if you haven’t personally been diagnosed with SAD, you may relate to feeling lethargic and sleepy in winter months. We say goodbye to the healing sun rays and grudgingly welcome dark clouds that gift us with rain and snow. By nature, vitamin D becomes less available to us and darker days encourage more sleep. In addition, activity levels can easily plummet because of the weather, leaving us even more unmotivated. If you have been diagnosed with SAD, you may be familiar with treatment options. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed, you still may be able to learn something from treatment protocol to boost your mood.
Try a vitamin D supplement
Individuals with SAD have been shown to have low blood levels of vitamin D. The evidence for vitamin D treatment is not conclusive, although some studies indicate that improved vitamin D status reduces symptoms of SAD (1). For example, one randomized controlled trial found that an improvement of vitamin D levels in the body was significantly associated with improvement in depression scores (2).
Purchase a “Happy Light”
Light therapy has been used as a SAD treatment since the 1980’s (1). Light boxes produce artificial light that mimics the natural sunlight during Fall and Winter months when days are shortened and sunlight exposure is not as easily accessible. Placing a light box in your home or office is a great way to brighten up mood and supply your body with more energy.
A personal tip: place a light box in your bathroom to make your morning routine a little easier.
Share your feelings
Talking to a friend or therapist is a great way to relieve stress and get your feelings out. Specific therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts (1). In addition, behavioral activation can help an individual discover activities that they enjoy, guiding them through the winter months.
Talk to your doctor
If you feel that you may need a little extra emotional boost, you should discuss treatment options with your doctor. They may be able to offer additional treatment options or provide you with information on antidepressants if needed. Don’t forget to let your doctor know what supplements you are taking before beginning a new prescription medication routine.
It’s normal to experience mood shifts, and even the most optimistic people feel down from time to time. Make sure you are taking care of your body by supplying it with a nourishing diet, adequate sleep, physical activity, and emotional support. Make the best out of the darker months by cozying up with a blanket and binge-watching your favorite TV series. it’s okay, I won’t tell.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml. Reviewed March 2016. Accessed November 27, 2017.
- Gloth FM, Alam W, Hollis B. Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. J Nutr Health Aging. 1999;3(1):5-7.