The Christmas season brings with it thoughts of happiness, family, friends, and celebration. So, we should all be happy and festive, right? One would think. So, why do I feel so down? This is a question for many during the holiday season. Up to 20% of people in the United States experience depressed mood, loss of energy, increased sleep, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. If these symptoms seem to emerge around late fall to early winter and persist until spring, you may be experiencing SAD.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that occurs most often in the winter months. This is believed to be due to shorter days and reduced sunlight that accompanies winter weather and causes biochemical changes in the brain that lead to changes in energy, mood, and sleep patterns.
Who experiences SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder appears four times more frequently in females than in males. Children can experience SAD, however, the disorder appears most commonly in those between the ages of 18-30, with symptoms receding with age. A family history of mental illness can be a factor, and those with clinical depression or bipolar disorder may experience and increase in symptoms during this time of year. (Blair, 2013)1.
What do you do about SAD?
It is best to discuss your symptoms with a professional to determine if what you are experiencing is in fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or another form of depression. Symptoms left untreated can worsen and result in greater unpleasant consequences for daily functioning. Treatment in the form of counseling and possible anti-depressant medication may be prescribed to assist in regulating the melatonin and serotonin levels in the brain. Light therapy, which is exposure to a light box for 30 minutes each day, can also be helpful. Light boxes provide high intensity light that one receives from sunlight exposure. My personal experience with light therapy has helped me to restore much-needed energy and elevate my mood during the winter months.
1Blair, B. (2013, July 22). Less sunlight means more blues for some. Retrieved from nami.org.