Are You Feeling Seasonal Affective Disorder Or Something More?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less natural sunlight. Common SAD symptoms like low energy, loss of interest in activities, and social withdrawal might also be part of a bigger conversation about your mental health. Let’s discuss when you might talk with a healthcare professional.

Wintertime in the Midwest and Northern parts of the United States means shorter daylight hours and sometimes gloomy weather. The reduced amount of sunlight, and the resulting lower levels of serotonin, have been linked to an increase in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Commonly known as SAD, this type of depression is associated with lower energy, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, less interest in activities, and social withdrawal.   

It’s also “pressure season,” a time of year when our mental health can be impacted by the growing number of family and social gatherings, financial pressures, and the winter weather. This time of year, It’s not out of the ordinary for anyone to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness, and heightened stress.

It can be helpful to know some common symptoms and coping strategies for SAD, as well as when you might want to get in touch with a mental health professional. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Make You Sad

Seasonal Affective Disorder typically involves more pervasive symptoms of depression than simply lacking energy or feeling irritable, although both feelings are common with SAD. These depression symptoms are often recurrent with seasonal daylight changes, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to four to five months of the year. 

The reduction in daylight hours during winter has the potential to disrupt our internal clocks, which play an important role in our sleep patterns and mood. For example, the longer dark hours might increase your body’s production of melatonin. Individuals with SAD, as a result, might feel more lethargic when they aren’t sleeping, while also wanting to sleep more. Alternatively, the change to your sleep patterns can make you feel persistently tired, leading to difficulties in concentration. The sense of lethargy that sometimes accompanies SAD can make you feel withdrawn and you might not get as much enjoyment out of your favorite activities. You might also find yourself craving comfort foods, such as those high in calories or sugar. 

The National Institute of Health estimates that around 10% of people in Alaska suffer from SAD, while in Florida, only 1% of the population is likely to experience daylight-related shifts in mood. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that 5% of adults in the U.S. experience some form of SAD.

Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Winter Blues

Although Lincoln, Nebraska isn’t as northern as other U.S. states, sunlight can still be scant, especially with the more frequent cloudy winter days. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that those with SAD symptoms start by trying the following four activities for two weeks:

  • Do something you enjoy
  • Go outside in the sunlight (or even if the day is cloudy)
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Eat healthy and avoid foods with lots of sugar

When Should You Seek Professional Help?

If your depression symptoms become more severe, or they’ve lasted longer than two weeks, it’s a smart idea to reach out to Bluestem Health and their mental health team. There are even a few options your primary healthcare provider can offer, depending on your needs. For example, artificial light options, often called light boxes, are available to help treat SAD. With a light box, you typically sit or work near the light for 30 minutes after you wake up to boost your alertness, mood, and energy. Note that people with vision-related conditions might not be ideal candidates for light therapy. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting any treatment. Mental health professionals can offer cognitive behavioral health therapy or certain antidepressant medications as part of your treatment plan.

Mental Health Providers Who Understand

Addressing concerns with mental health is important in maintaining a healthy mind and body. Bluestem Health’s holistic approach to healthcare prioritizes your mental health by providing access to an entire behavioral health team to assess and treat patients. Your well-being matters to Bluestem Health. If you need mental health services in Lincoln, Nebraska, or help with SAD, call us at 402-476-1455.

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