If you have felt depressed during winter months, you are not alone. As it gets darker earlier each day, and temperatures drop, many people experience “winter blues” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This year, seasonal affective disorder could be worse than ever. However, there are ways you can prevent and manage SAD to help you get through the pandemic’s winter months.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during a change of seasons, typically in the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. While the cause of SAD is not known, brain chemicals that affect your mood can change according to the amount of light you get each day.
It is also difficult to diagnose SAD as many other types of mental health conditions cause similar symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to be diagnosed with SAD you must meet the following:
- Have symptoms of major depression.
- Experience depressive episodes that occur during specific seasons for at least 2 consecutive years. Nevertheless, not all people who experience SAD experience symptoms every year.
- The depressive episodes are much more frequent than other depressive episodes that the person may have had at other times of the year during their life.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD
SAD is more common in women than in men. It is also more common to those who live farther north where there are shorter daylight hours. Symptoms of SAD last about 4 to 5 months a year and not every person with seasonal affective disorder experiences the symptoms below:
- Low energy
- Feeling depressed most of nearly every day
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Experiencing changes in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness
Specific symptoms for winter-depression SAD:
- Overeating (weight gain)
- Social withdrawal
How is SAD Treated?
There are four primary treatments for SAD:
- Light Therapy: A method that mimics natural outdoor light using a special light box with the goal of changing the brain chemicals linked to mood. It typically takes a few days to a few weeks before becoming effective. Your doctor will be able to help determine if this is the best option for you and identify which product would be the most effective.
- Medications: Individuals with depression are more susceptible to SAD, making antidepressant treatment a good option.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. Therapy can help you learn coping mechanisms to manage your stress and changing your negative thoughts and behaviors.
- Mind-Body Connection: This includes a variety of techniques such as meditation, guided imagery and music or art therapy.
Coping with SAD
- Self-care: It is important to take care of yourself and your mental health. Find time to do the things you love. Whether it be reading a book or discovering a new hobby, taking time for yourself will help you feel better.
- Find something to look forward to: From cooking your favorite meal or watching your favorite show, having things to look forward to aids in regulating your mood.
- Try to stay active: Exercise is a great way to counteract some main symptoms of SAD such as drowsiness and fatigue because exercising gives you energy and boosts your mood.
- Be mindful of what you eat: Individuals with seasonal affective disorder tend to eat more starchy and unhealthy foods. It is important to try and eat things that can give you energy. For example, vitamin D can help manage depression but is insufficiently produced in our bodies during winter. Taking vitamin D supplements and consuming foods that are rich in vitamin D can go a long way in helping you feel better.
How Can Tria Health Help?
If Tria Health is offered through your benefits plan, you have the option of receiving a one-on-one, private consultation with one of Tria Health’s pharmacists over the phone. During your consultation, your pharmacist will review all your current medications, including vitamins and supplements. If you are interested in exploring medication treatments for SAD, Tria’s pharmacist will be able to provide you with recommendations and coordinate with your doctor(s).
Call the Tria Health Help Desk at 1.888.799.8742
- NIMH » Seasonal Affective Disorder (nih.gov)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic
- Seasonal affective disorder: How to get through the pandemic’s winter months – CNN
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Seasonal affective disorder: Prevention and coping strategies (medicalnewstoday.com)