There’s no doubt this has been a long winter. Many of us are eagerly awaiting the telltale signs of spring filled with sunshine and brighter days and the sight of tiny crocuses poking their way through the soil.
For many, the winter gray skies and darker days trigger the “winter blues” or other forms of depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is one disorder that is triggered by declining daylight and affects about half a million people between the months of September and April. Nearly three out of four SAD sufferers are women. Although many of us experience some symptoms of depression during these months, normal moods and energy levels usually return when spring arrives.
Lateef Habib, LCSW, BCD, Clinical Coordinator for Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Norwalk Hospital, explains that SAD is thought to be triggered by the brain’s response to decreased daylight exposure. Sunlight seems to play a role in the brain’s production of key hormones, like melatonin, that regulate the sleep–wake cycles, energy, and mood. Our biological internal clock, called circadian rhythm, changes partly because of the changes in sunlight pattern. Melatonin is produced at increased levels in the dark, so when the days are shorter and darker, the production of this hormone increases.
How do you know if you suffer from SAD? Here are some signs:
- Changes in mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Lack of enjoyment
- Loss of interest in things one normally enjoys
- Low energy
- Unusual tiredness
- Increased sleep
- Craving carbohydrates and sugar (weight gain)
- Isolating and avoiding social activities and friends
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased creativity
Relief is in Sight
Believe it or not, relief is in sight with spring right around the corner. This is good news since sun and daylight are proven effective treatments for SAD. In the meantime, get outside and get some sunlight. Go for a walk outdoors, get some exercise, interact with people, and be social!
Speak with your physician about your symptoms, especially if you can’t seem to break the negative thought process. For some, antidepressants and/or psychotherapy may be necessary. Should you need help, don’t hesitate to contact WCHN's Behavioral Health Services: