According to the AAFP, about 4-6% of people struggle with seasonal depression. Another 10-20% have mild cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you tend to get the “winter blues” or feel down this time of year, it’s important to know the difference between depression and SAD, and how you can combat either one.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those differences, as well as the common symptoms of SAD. When you have a better understanding of what you’re dealing with, it’s easier to take charge of your well-being and fight back against it.
We’ll also cover some effective ways you can combat SAD, and potentially end up enjoying the cold winter months for the first time in years.
SAD vs. Depression
The biggest difference between Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression is that SAD is a specific type of depression that typically only occurs once a year. You might struggle with other triggers that lead to depression throughout the year, but SAD is very specific and tends to start wreaking havoc on your well-being around the same time each year.
Most people start to experience SAD symptoms in the fall, and they typically last all throughout the winter.
Depressive episodes, on the other hand, can occur at any time throughout the year. If you’re already struggling with depression caused by other sources, Seasonal Affective Disorder can make your symptoms worse. If you don’t tend to deal with depression throughout the year but start to feel both helpless and hopeless as the weather turns colder, it’s likely you’re experiencing SAD.
Doctors are still trying to learn more about SAD and what exactly causes it. A lack of sunlight is believed to be a major factor. The shorter, darker days can have a negative impact on your circadian rhythms, changing your sleep patterns. Melatonin (a hormone associated with healthy sleep) and serotonin are closely linked, so erratic sleep patterns can have a direct impact on your mental well-being.
Common Symptoms of SAD
Some people have the “winter blues” and it’s not necessarily considered Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit drowsier than normal when the days are shorter, or experience a low mood now and then when it’s dark and cold outside.
SAD is different, and far more extreme. Having a strong understanding of the symptoms of SAD will make it easier to identify quickly, so you can start fighting back against it or get the professional help you deserve. Some of those common symptoms include:
● Appetite changes
● Mood swings
● Loss of interest
Dealing with SAD can make it difficult to get out of bed each day or keep up an interest in things you typically enjoy. You might start to withdraw from friends and loved ones and isolate yourself more frequently. Unfortunately, the more time you spend alone indoors, the worse your depression is likely to become.
It can be difficult to find the motivation to do almost anything. You know winter will eventually come to an end, but right now things seem hopeless, right? So, what can you do to fight back against those feelings and potentially experience some happiness and peace this season?
What Can You Do?
The silver lining about SAD is that there are many ways to fight back against it. If you’re really struggling with your mental health and you’re concerned that your depression is leading to extreme, intrusive thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist or mental health professional for help. There could be something deeper beneath the surface that is causing your seasonal depression to feel so extreme.
There are also things you can start implementing into your daily routine that can make a big difference in how you feel. Start by nourishing your mind and body each day. You can do that by:
● Eating well
● Exercising regularly
● Spending time outside when the weather is decent
● Reading more
● Spending time with your support system
It’s also important to focus on the present and find moments of calm and peace throughout the day. Deep breathing, mindfulness, and yoga can help with that.
In addition to adopting healthy habits throughout the winter, make sure your environment makes you feel safe, comfortable, and warm. A furnace tune-up can help to ensure you’re warm and cozy all winter long, and it can even lower your utility bills. You can also make your living space more inviting by decorating with more rugs, blankets, throw pillows, and candles. When you’re happy in your cozy home environment, you’re less likely to be focused on the darkness outside.
If you’re dealing with SAD, you’re certainly not alone. However, you also don’t have to struggle all winter long. The first step in fighting back against Seasonal Affective Disorder is recognizing that you have it, and then taking it seriously. Put these ideas into practice to feel better this season and beyond.
By Katie Brenneman
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