The last part of December through January is the darkest part of the year for the northern hemisphere. In many parts of America people avoid going outdoors because the weather is so unpleasant. Instead they curl up on the sofa, eat, binge watch Netflix and feel down. Coping this way for a few days is fine, but many people suffer from SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - which can take a toll on their happiness and even general functioning for a big chunk of the year.
SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression that people experience particularly during the winter months but sometimes in fall and spring as well. It's more than just feeling blah or not liking the weather, and it's triggered by the lack of daylight. Women and people who live in northern latitudes and who are between the ages of 15 and 55 are more likely to experience SAD. It also tends to run in families.
It can be hard to distinguish between the stress (and aftermath) of the holidays, depression, or the normal ups and downs of life. So how do you tell the difference between the blues and SAD?
What Are the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Exhaustion - This includes fatigue and a lack of a desire to move. Many people with SAD find it harder to get out of bed in the morning and want to hibernate all winter, eating and sleeping until the weather is nicer. If you have low energy or regularly oversleep in the wintertime, you may have SAD.
Irritability - Depression tends to make everything seem harder and more frustrating. People with SAD tend to feel more overwhelmed and moodier. Even ordinary chores can seem insurmountable to someone who's experiencing SAD. If you notice that your reactions are uncharacteristically short or people keep telling you you're in a bad mood, you may have SAD.
Difficulty concentrating - Some people find it hard to get interested in anything this time of year or focus on any subject or task for long. If you notice that you have a harder time working or your productivity plunges in the winter, you may have SAD.
Weight gain - It's hard not to gain weight in the winter. The holidays are one feast after the next and working up the enthusiasm for exercising is difficult too. When the weather gets dark and gray, many people crave carbohydrates and sweets - two foods that will put more weight on you than other food groups. It's normal to gain a little weight over the winter, but if you notice out of control cravings or a large weight gain, that might be SAD at work.
Not everyone will experience all of the above symptoms or these symptoms in the same way individually. We are all different, but anyone with SAD knows that Seasonal Affective Disorder makes life harder and less enjoyable. The good news is that Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated, and people who have it can learn to recognize its signs and begin fighting it as soon as it rears its head. Some people ramp up their exercise routine because endorphins help to fight depression. Others combat the lack of light in the winter with time spent in front of a light box. Another helpful hint is to consider your diet. SAD is correlated with a lack of Vitamin D and B vitamins. Most people are Vitamin D deficient year round, but especially in the winter. B vitamins and especially Vitamin B12 have also been shown to help alleviate anxiety and depression. Brain and nervous systems function depend on the body's reserves of B vitamins, so adding them to your diet can help. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get enough Vitamin B12 from even a very healthy diet. The fastest and best way to address a Vitamin B12 deficiency is by injection.
If you think you suffer or are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, see your doctor and discuss what your options are for combatting it. By taking some basic measures, many people with SAD find that their winters are easier to get through. Bancroft Feldman offers Vitamin B12 injections to our patients. If you think you would benefit from an injection, talk to our staff at your next appointment. We'd be happy to help you feel better and more energetic this winter.