Even if we don’t get blizzards and snow storms, winter in Southern California can be challenging. Besides the fact that temperatures can drop to the 40s or lower, less daylight and rain showers can make it harder to get outside – which may make you feel like you just want to hibernate and sleep through the winter. If you start feeling down in the dumps during January, February, or March, it may be more than just having a bad day: you could have seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s closely tied to the seasons – many who suffer from it can start feeling blue in the fall, with worsening episodes through the winter that ease off in the spring. Basically, it’s depression that gets worse during certain times of the year.
Typical Depression Symptoms
- Feeling depressed almost all day long, most days
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having low energy
- Losing interested in activities you once enjoyed
- Sleep problems
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Typical Winter SAD Symptoms
- Having low energy
- Frequent daytime sleepiness/sleeping more than normal
- Weight gain
- Craving for starchy foods and sugars
- Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
Causes of SAD
Unfortunately, we still aren’t 100% certain on the specific cause of SAD. However, there are a few indicators and triggers:
Your own internal clock. Some people are naturally more awake in the mornings, while others seem hard-wired to be “late to bed, late to rise.” This internal clock, also called the circadian rhythm, may be affected by the decrease in sunlight.
Less sunlight may trigger a drop in your serotonin, a brain chemical associated with happiness and well-being.
Less sunlight may also trigger an increase in your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Too much melatonin, and you may feel lethargic and sleepy.
Who’s Most Likely to Have SAD?
- Younger adults (especially teens). Kids and young adults are at greater risk for SAD, so as a parent, it’s important to know the symptoms and what you can do.
- Women are four times more likely than men to develop SAD.
- Those with existing depression or bipolar disorder.
- Anyone who lives far from the equator. While it’s much more common in areas really far north or south of the equator, Angelinos definitely get SAD – and because of our relatively sunny climate, it may be more difficult for us to figure out what’s going on.
Beating the Winter Blues
If you don’t typically suffer from depression but do feel a little more ‘blah’ than usual during the winter months, lifting your mood can be as simple as:
- Moving your chair near a window with a view.
- Opening your curtains or blinds to let natural light into your house or workplace.
- Taking a walk outside during daylight hours.
- Better yet, work up a sweat and kick-start your endorphins, those feel-good hormones reduce your sensitivity to pain and promote a feeling of well-being.
However, if you’re feeling SAD because you have depression, don’t wait for the seasons to change. Talk to your doctor! There’s no reason to suffer, especially when there are so many treatment options. If you’re already being treated for depression, your doctor may recommend light therapy or a vitamin D supplement, or your doctor may decide to put you on a different medication.
If you haven’t talked to your doctor about feeling down, don’t worry or feel ashamed. Depression is a very real medical condition – it has nothing to do with willpower and it’s not your fault. Your doctor has your back, and so do all of us at AltaMed!