Seasonal affective disorder, when it's more than just the winter blues
Do you struggle with the winter blues? How do you know when it’s more than just that? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression some people experience in the winter. SAD is caused by less sunlight and shorter days, which are thought to be linked to a chemical change in the brain.
It was winter of 2018 when Monica, a 44-year-old mother of three,* reached her lowest point. “The darkness and cold were too much to bear and I was crying on my drive to work, unsure if I could face the day and show optimism and joy in a job that I love,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t being the best mom, wife and friend that I could be and I felt tremendous guilt about it. I didn’t know how to change my mood. I was at the point where I was willing to do anything to just feel like myself again.”
When is it time to ask for help from your doctor?
Monica felt like she had tried everything to overcome the feelings of being overwhelmed, sad and easily irritated during the winter. She exercised, incorporated healthy foods into her diet, and asked for support from friends, family and her church. When these feelings persisted, she knew something was “off” and decided to seek help from her doctor.
Her doctor explained that seasonal affective disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain and is quite common. She also explained that SAD is more prevalent in women and can occur at different times during their lives due to hormonal changes. Which explained why even though Monica didn’t experience symptoms of SAD in her twenties and thirties, it started to affect her in her early forties. Monica’s doctor suggested using light therapy and prescribed a low-dose medication for anxiety/depression, both of which has significantly helped her daily management of SAD.
SAD may be reduced or controlled by a well-balanced diet, exercise and light therapy
Light therapy is a common treatment for SAD. For Monica, using light therapy daily has helped reduce her symptoms. Though she admits, finding the time can be challenging with her busy lifestyle―her job has her on her feet all day and an active family at home with three young children keeps her busy as well. She uses her light for 20 to 30 minutes in the mornings, as she gets ready for work.
Besides the low-dose medication for anxiety/depression, Monica recognizes how much better she feels when she is eating healthy, staying hydrated and exercising frequently. “All of these little things really help give me energy and combat negative changes of the season,” she explained.
Monica said she starts to feel the weight of the darkness and cold affecting her mood following Christmas and lasting until end of March or early April. Yet, SAD is not only a wintertime phenomenon; some people will experience symptoms during other times of the year.
Talk to your health care provider if you feel you may be suffering from SAD.
*Name changed in publication as the individual wishes to remain anonymous.