Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft
It doesn’t take a meteorologist to confirm that weather affects mood. If it’s rainy, things can get a little gloomy, and if it’s sunny, there’s often an extra kick in our steps. But what happens when weather becomes a deal breaker? If the winter doldrums bring depression year after year, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) could be to blame.
Feeling Blue — The Need-To-Know
SAD is a form of seasonal depression that typically occurs during the winter months with symptoms weaning off during the spring and summer (though some people experience their most intense symptoms during the summer). Symptoms of SAD include decreased concentration, increased appetite, weight gain (whereas some other forms of depression can lead to weight loss), social withdrawal, moodiness, and fatigue. Though people sometimes write it off as simple moodiness, SAD is a real form of cyclical depression that is highly dependent on a person’s hormonal state, seasonal characteristics like ambient temperature, and exposure to natural light (which can influence the body’s production of melatonin). Research has linked the prevalence of SAD to higher latitudes, regions which tend to have more intense and longer winters.
Approximately four to six percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD (compared with twice that rate in more-wintery Canada). Around 10 percent of the U.S. population also experiences subsyndromal SAD, a more mild form of the disorder often referred to as “winter blues.” And though SAD affects both sexes, women are about twice as likely to experience symptoms.
Turn That Frown Upside Down — Your Action Plan
SAD shouldn’t be confused with a mere inclination to hibernate like the rest of mammal-kind. It’s sometimes difficult to determine whether a bout of sadness is indeed an indication of SAD, so a doctor’s visit is the first step on the road to treatment. And because SAD symptoms are present in other forms of depression, it isn’t always diagnosed correctly. Physical symptoms, especially hormonal problems, can also mask the underlying issue.
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