Winter is here again. Days are getting shorter, Christmas lights are popping up in storefronts and on streetlights in towns big and small. Typically, the holiday season is a time where friends and family are supposed to get together and celebrate. For some people, this comes easy. We all know the neighbor who is thrilled to bring you over cookies after the first snowfall.
But not everyone is eager to spread holiday cheer. Some jokingly call these people Scrooge or Grinch and laugh it off. What those people don’t realize is that winter depression is a serious issue that impacts a stagging 11 million people in the United States.
We are going to take explore the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. Next, let’s look at three of the most common symptoms of winter depression. The last thing we are going to do is explain some of the treatment methods available for this disorder.
The Primary Causes of SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder disrupts your body and forces multiple chemical reactions that physically manifests as depression. The first cause of your symptoms may relate to where you live.
Research shows that the farther away you live from the equator, the better chance you have of suffering from SAD symptoms. People in Florida have a one percent chance of developing symptoms, which is drastically lower when compared to the northern part of the United States.
The cold and dark months of the year have a similar effect on the psyche of people who suffer from SAD. It’s not a coincidence that places that receive less sunlight during the winter months tend to get this disorder.
Lack of sunlight causes a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock. Because of this change, the body produces melatonin in mass quantities. Melatonin is responsible for maintaining regular sleep patterns. The result is a hormonal balance that is far from ordinary.
Symptom 1: Inability to Concentrate
Lack of concentration is one of the first symptoms of SAD. Do you find yourself drifting off during work, during dinner with your family, or when you are with your friends? If so, there’s a good chance that SAD could be having an impact on the way your mind processes information.
Slow and sluggish thinking during the winter months is a common sign of what is known as mild SAD. You must recognize the symptoms before it progresses into something more serious. You should always talk to your doctor to make sure you’re not suffering from another issue, like Attention Deficient Disorder.
Symptom 2: Withdrawing from Things and People You Love
It’s harder than ever to withdraw from our day to day lives the way some people once could. Now that there are over 3 billion mobile users, and perhaps just as many using social media, we are always connected to the things and people we love.
Have you noticed that you shy away from the group chat with all of your friends? Are you not calling your family as often as you do during the summer months? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media instead of researching and interacting with hobbies that you love? If so, you might be suffering from winter depression.
The amount of time you spend on your phone can also be a significant indicator as to whether you’re withdrawing from your friends or hobbies. The average person spends 3.3 hours per day on their phone between email, social media, texts, and calls. If you notice that your number is significantly higher or lower than usual, this may be a telltale sign.
Symptom 3: Oversleeping and General Irritability
Finally, oversleeping and general irritability are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sleeping too much occurs because of the additional melatonin created by your body. Your internal clock quite literally can’t tell day from night. So if you missed an 11 o’clock lunch date, slept past your giveaway announcement, or find yourself sleeping more than 8 hours a day, you could be showing signs of SAD.
Aggression and irritability occur because, despite all of the extra sleep, the body does not feel rested. This is the equivalent of waking someone up at 3 am after they went to sleep all day. For someone that works a day job, this can cause severe problems in your professional life. If you’ve become habitually late during the winter months, consider seeing your doctor to test for SAD.
SAD Relief Options
At the time, there’s no way to cure SAD forever. However, there are some things you can do to fight back and minimize the symptoms. First, try to get as much sunlight as possible. The winter months are cold, but a 20-minute brisk walk through the park during the day can have a tremendous impact on your internal clock. Spend as much time as possible in the sun to minimize the symptoms.
If you don’t have the option to get more sunlight, there are doctor tested lightboxes that can help you get the light you need to produce serotonin.
Essentially, these boxes require the patient to sit in front of the box or wear a hat-like device with the light shining down on the face. These treatments usually last for 30 minutes a day, and so far have shown positive results.
The best way to know for sure is to get checked out at your doctor. SAD symptoms can escalate quickly and disrupt your life and happiness. Recognizing signs and regular checkups can help you identify this disorder early.