Here in the Pacific Northwest, sunlight is something we go without for many months at a time during the rainy fall and winter months. As a result, some of us have a harder time mentally and emotionally than others with less sunlight.
If you struggle with feeling down or depressed during darker months of the year, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) This can arrive in late fall or early winter and make an exit in spring and summer months when the sun returns.
Signs of SAD:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Low energy
- Sleeping problems or oversleeping
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Appetite changes
- Especially a craving for foods high in carbs
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Theories on Causes of SAD:
- Sunlight on our eyes may trigger the release of something called serotonin, a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter) that helps create feelings of happiness. Less sunlight may mean less serotonin, which has been linked with depression.
- Longer winter nights affect the production of another neurotransmitter called melatonin. Melatonin levels correlate to the length of our sleep cycle and are also linked to serotonin production. Irregularities between shorter warm weather nights and longer cold weather nights can lead to disruptions in melatonin production and lead to difficulties with sleep.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more often diagnosed in women than men and younger adults than the elderly. This is theorized to be the result of those populations being more likely to seek assistance for SAD. Certain factors make SAD more likely:
- Family history of SAD or other forms of depression
- Having major depression or bipolar disorder, symptoms of which may be made worse with seasonal changes.
- Living farther from the equator means even less sunlight in the winter and increases the risk of SAD.
Untreated SAD May Cause:
- Social withdrawal
- Substance abuse
- Problems with school or work
- Mental health disorders like anxiety or eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
These signs should be taken seriously and treatment is available if you or someone you know is suffering. You can see a medical doctor for lab tests to check your blood and/or thyroid to be sure everything is functioning properly. During a physical exam, your doctor should ask you questions about your mental state due to the likelihood of depression being linked to physical health issues. A questionnaire may be filled out to see if you are experiencing depression. A visit to a mental health professional will help you get a diagnosis and possibly medication if needed.
- Special light boxes help mimic outdoor light and help increase the release of neurotransmitters linked to sleep and mood. Be sure to talk to your primary care physician about which kind to purchase and how often to use it to get the most benefit.
- Medications, supplements, and psychotherapy or counseling are options that are available and licensed professionals should be sought out if you feel you are in need.
- Relaxation and stress-relieving techniques like dedicated time for art, creativity, and meditation may help you cope with less sunlight.
- Staying active and eating well are additional methods to support brain health and good neurotransmitter production to keep you afloat during the darker months.
Talk to your medical doctor if you’re concerned you may be experiencing SAD. Even though our clinic focuses on physical treatment, how you feel mentally and emotionally has a huge impact on physical health and overall wellness. Call the clinic if you need a chiropractic adjustment, massage, or physical therapy to help support your self-care goals.