Healthy Living Blog – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Awareness
The wintertime may come with the “winter blues.” In the Bay Area, the winter is marked with cooler weather, cloudier skies, and a chance of rain. The shift from sunny and warm weather to cloudy and cool weather can make people experience the winter blues. People may feel more sluggish and gloomy than usual but these feelings don’t get in the way of living life. But, if these feelings do affect daily life, it might be seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What is SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that happens when the seasons change. It’s also called seasonal depression. Most symptoms begin in the fall and last through the winter months. Less commonly, SAD can happen in the summer season.
It’s most likely caused by lower levels of sunlight in the fall and winter seasons. Less sunlight is linked to vitamin D deficiency, lower levels of serotonin (the “happy” hormone), and higher levels of melatonin (the “sleep” hormone). All of these are linked to depression.
Since SAD is a type of depression, it has similar symptoms to major depression. They include:
- Feeling depressed for most of the day, almost every day
- Feeling hopeless
- Loss of energy
- Losing interest in the activities once enjoyed
- Sleeping problems
- Having changes in appetite
- Feeling sluggish
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
Specific winter symptoms of SAD include:
- Having low energy
- Sleeping too much
- Overeating; craving for sweet and starchy foods
- Weight gain
- Avoiding social contact
Who is more likely to get SAD?
- Young adults ages 18-30
- People who live far north or south of the equator.
- People who have a family history of depression.
- People who have depression or bipolar disorder.
Treatment and prevention
There are different treatments that can help reduce SAD symptoms:
- Sunlight. If the sun is out, go outside to get some natural sunlight! This helps your body produce vitamin D and serotonin, which can boost your mood.
- Exercise. Staying physically active is a good way to reduce SAD symptoms. Exercise can increase serotonin and endorphins, which are hormones that help boost your mood.
- Light therapy. Light therapy uses artificial light from lightboxes to copy natural sunlight. This therapy can help manage the release of melatonin, the “sleep” hormone. You will spend a prescribed amount of time looking at the lightbox every day.
- Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is talk therapy which is done with a mental health provider. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is effective in treating SAD.
- Medication. If the above therapies don’t work, talk to your mental health provider about taking antidepressants.
Have questions or curious to learn more? Please reach out to our Health Center and make an appointment to speak with a doctor. AACI provides services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and many other languages. Call (408) 975-2763 to schedule your appointment today!