Seasonal Affective Disorder: Feeling the Winter Blues?
If you have common symptoms of depression such as feelings of hopelessness, sleep problems, loss of interest or mood changes during the winter months, then you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The main age of onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder is between 18 and 30 years of age. College students are affected more than you might realize. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. The disorder affects half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January and February. As with other forms of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder can lead to a gloomy outlook and make people feel hopeless, worthless and irritable. It may cause you to lose interest in activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies and spending time with friends.
What causes SAD?
Just as sunlight affects the seasonal activities of animals (i.e., reproductive cycles and hibernation), Seasonal Affective Disorder may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules.
What are the Symptoms of SAD?
Here are some symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder can be made after two consecutive winters of the following symptoms if they are also followed by remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months:
- Depression – misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, despair and apathy
- Anxiety – tension and inability to tolerate stress
- Mood changes – extremes of mood and, in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
- Sleep problems – desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
- Lethargy – feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
- Overeating – craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
- Social problems – irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Sexual problems – loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact
What can I do if I think I have SAD?
- Get Outdoors – Research has shown that spending time outdoors or getting exercise may help the milder symptoms. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
- Get plenty of sleep – You’re more likely to experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder if you are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. Everyone is different, but try and aim for at least seven hours per night.
- Eat healthy foods – Foods with a higher nutrition content, such as fruits and vegetables, contain more vitamins which help us to focus and fuel our bodies. It’s also important to make sure you eat throughout the day, rather than having one large meal per day.
- Do activities that make you happy – Go on a trip, out to see a play or to a concert that you’ve had your eye on. Over 70% of people reported being happier after spending money on experiences, rather than material items.
If you feel like you are having severe symptoms, call the Counseling and Testing Center (CTC) at 404-413-1640 or visit us during walk-in hours for free and confidential counseling.