AUSTIN (KXAN) — Winter can be a challenging time of year. The days are shorter, the weather is cooler and the ice storm that swept through Central Texas and left hundreds of thousands of people without power didn’t help either.
If you are a person who feels lower during the winter months, you aren’t alone. There is a condition called “seasonal affective disorder,” which affects nearly 10 million Americans yearly.
Colloquially referred to as the “winter blues,” season affective disorder, or SAD, is a legitimate form of depression that affects how people think, feel and handle activities of daily life. This condition typically lasts between four to five months.
Chelsea Cohen, a behavioral health therapist with Ascension Seton, said that it isn’t uncommon to feel more lethargic or melancholic when it’s darker out. These sometimes subtle mood changes are different from SAD, which tends to last longer and is more severe.
A person with the condition would likely feel depressed nearly every day during the duration of the episode.
“They might also experience something called anhedonia, or a loss of interest in doing things they would ordinarily enjoy doing. They might experience hopelessness or even suicidal thoughts,” Cohen said.
Why do people get SAD?
Researchers have found that shorter days with reduced sunlight can trigger a chemical change in the brain which leads to these depressive symptoms. Researchers have linked an increased production of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep and secreted by the pineal gland, during the winter months with the disorder.
“Certainly, the change of seasons can be jarring on the body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm,” Cohen said. “When you add in weather events like the ice storm that we had last week and the loss of power for so many, that could really exacerbate a person’s depressive symptoms even if they have no prior history of depressive episodes.”
What can you do?
We are approaching the spring light at the end of the winter tunnel. If you are still experiencing SAD symptoms, Cohen recommended exercising daily, getting out in the sunshine when you can, trying light therapy when you cannot and maintaining a typical sleep schedule.
“Too much sleep and too little sleep can have a measurable impact,” Cohen said.
“[If] you feel like your quality of life, important relationships and work productivity are suffering, I would recommend seeking professional help,” Cohen continued. “Psychotherapy and antidepressant medication may be helpful. And people can always call Ascension Seton Behavioral Health and speak to one of our lovely behavioral health navigators. They can help connect people to the right resources.”