It’s January. You’re standing at a window, gazing out onto the bleak scenery, and with every passing moment you feel less and less inspired to leave your house, or even get dressed.
Perhaps you watch a bird rise into the dreary, cloud-covered sky, ascending through each layer of lackluster gloom until you can hardly see it any more against the backdrop of the dark gray mass billowing above. With every second of the bird’s journey into this dismal vastness your mood dips lower and lower, draining even the slightest existence of energy.
In an instant, your state of mind is as sapped of color as the landscape you’ve been observing. – Blah!
Have you ever found yourself feeling down like this due to gloomy weather? Does it often happen during the winter months – December through March?
Many people refer to this phenomenon as the “Winter Blues,” but there could be a more serious problem behind your affliction. It could be SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.*
How can you tell the difference?
For one thing, SAD usually affects people who already have a form of depression (including bipolar disorder), or a family history of depression. Plus, people who live farther from the equator, women, and young people are also at higher risk to be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If you fall into any of those categories, you might want to take a closer look at these typical signs and symptoms of SAD:
- Symptoms coming and going with the change of seasons – in most cases, SAD symptoms begin in the fall or winter and end in the spring (though, in rare cases, the pattern is reversed and the symptoms begin in the spring or summer and end in the fall).
- Energy levels dipping considerably – lacking sufficient exposure to sunlight in the winter months is a major cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder and will leave you feeling sluggish, tired, and at times with a heavy feeling in your arms or legs.
- Problems sleeping – with decreasing energy levels and tiredness comes the consistent problem of oversleeping (though, in the cases where the pattern is reversed, insomnia, or the inability to sleep, is more likely to be the problem).
- Obvious changes in appetite – If you’re afflicted by SAD in the winter months, you might frequently experience strong cravings for foods that are high in carbohydrates (though, those with SAD in the summer months are more often afflicted with a lack of appetite).
- Evident difference in weight – with increased intake of carbohydrates, you will usually notice weight gain (though, those with a lack of appetite will more likely see weight loss instead).
- Increasing emotional imbalance – you may experience a marked surge in irritability, agitation, and anxiety during the particular season you’re afflicted with SAD, which often manifests itself through having problems getting along with others or hypersensitivity to rejections.
Of course, most of these things are also classical signs and symptoms for depression. As mentioned above, SAD affects mostly those with already existing forms of depression. However, if these symptoms seem to appear in a seasonal pattern (be that fall/winter or spring/summer), you are probably dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Make a list of the things you have observed about your symptoms and talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor might give you an exam and blood test to check for any physical causes of your symptoms. But in most cases, SAD can simply be treated with “light therapy,” which brings the chemicals in your brain back into balance.
* (Note: SAD is now officially referred to as Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.)