Different factors can play a role in depression – the environment, life stressors (e.g. job loss, finances, moving, etc.), loss of a loved one, genetic and physiological factors and chronic or disabling medical conditions are just a few of the most talked about factors. A factor not discussed as often is the weather.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to particular seasons of the year, often starting in the fall or winter. SAD is a very common type of depression that affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. every year.
Like many other types of depression, SAD is reoccurring and characterized by fatigue, hopelessness, depressed mood, irritability, oversleeping, appetite changes and social withdrawal. With SAD, the depressed mood often goes away in the spring or summer causing many to feel they were only going through some “winter blues.”
The exact cause of SAD is unknown, however, what is known is some important physiological factors affected by weather changes can contribute to this type of depression.
- The body’s internal clock change: The decrease in sunlight during fall/winter can disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Reduced serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight also causes a drop in serotonin in the body, which affects one’s mood.
- Unbalanced melatonin levels: The change in season can disrupt one’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
It is normal for many to feel less motivated and active when it is cooler and the days feel shorter (less sunlight). However, feeling these symptoms for days at a time and in patterns, for example, every winter, can be an indicator to consult with your doctor.
In addition to this, there are some techniques you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. Try making your environment brighter by opening blinds at home or sitting by the window at work. Another routine you can do is to go outside more frequently; even if the weather is not warm, the outdoor sunlight does help. Also exercising regularly can help alleviate stress and anxiety and has been shown to release endorphins that can boost your mood.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, September 12). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047
Mental Health Coach – Intern