If you have noticed that you aren't quite yourself this time of year, it may not be the holidays that are getting you down.
As winter begins, temperatures drop and hours of daylight fade, it’s not uncommon for people to begin feeling sluggish, moody or stuck in a funk. Those symptoms are typical of someone experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter. As many as one in five Americans have SAD, and 75 percent are women, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal
The disorder was first identified by psychiatrist and author Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of the best-selling book Winter Blues, in which he described his own experience with SAD.
Symptoms include sleeping too much, overeating, loss of energy, social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating. People in northern climates are more likely to experience SAD.
While many people experience some elements of SAD, Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Mark Frye, M.D., says you should seek professional help if your symptoms begin to affect your ability to perform at work or take a toll on your personal relationships.
Seeking help is particularly important if you begin to feel hopeless or have thoughts of self-harm, he says.
Let the sun shine in
According to Rosenthal, the best way of dealing with SAD is to expose yourself to more light during the day. Get outside as much as possible. If you work during the day, try to go for a walk during a break or lunch.
Light therapy boxes can also help boost your mood when you’re unable to get outdoors. Exercise also helps. Try to exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes.
What causes SAD? Sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood. Less light results in lower serotonin levels.
Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that causes SAD. Rosenthal discusses symptoms in the video clip below.