Mental Health has gone mainstream, and is much less of a “taboo” subject nowadays. In fact, a 2015 study by American University said that Millennials grew up hearing about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicide, and therefore, are more accepting of those with mental illnesses1. As more people continue to speak out about it, the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen. Today, we wanted to talk about a subset of depression, something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which tends to show up most during this time of the year.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons – SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. For most people with SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months; sapping your energy and making you feel moody2. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or summer. If you think you might be experiencing this, try not to just brush it off, it is a real thing, and something you do not have to go through alone.
Most of the time, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter, and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Some of the most common symptoms of SAD can include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite of weight
- Feeling sluggish
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
Some of the symptoms from fall and winter SAD, and spring and summer SAD are different. In fall and winter SAD, for example, you would be more likely to oversleep, gain a little extra weight, crave unhealthier foods, and have low energy. But for spring and summer SAD, symptoms might be more in line with trouble falling asleep, loss of appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety3.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed more often in woman than in men. And it occurs more frequently in younger adults as well4. Factors that may increase your risk for SAD include:
- Family History: People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
- Living far from the equator: SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north and south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
What You Can Do
Seasonal depression can make it hard to motivate yourself to make changes to get better, but there are plenty of simple steps you can take each day to feel better. Here are some tips:
- Get as much natural sunlight as possible: Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to sun without wearing sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun). Sunlight, even in small doses, can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. So try and take a short walk outdoors at lunchtime!
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you’re able to exercise outside in the sun. Regular exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals.
- Focus on your gut health: It is important to know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. Also, there is an anatomical and physiological connection between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve, and this is commonly referred to as the gut-brain axis5. When the balance between the good and bad bacteria is disrupted, certain things may occur, such as IBS, diabetes [diabetes? is this correct?], as well as cognitive and mood problems. To keep your gut healthy, try to eat whole, unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, and also consider adding a quality probiotic supplement to your diet.
All in all, it is completely normal to have some days where you feel a bit “off” or a little sad. But if you feel down for days or weeks at a time and you can’t get motivated to do things you normally enjoy, you should see your doctor.
*The statements and information contained in this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The products featured in this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.