How do I know if I have seasonal affective disorder?
“My first experience took me completely off guard,” former seasonal affective disorder patient Mary Sauer wrote, in a post for PsychCentral. “I’d never heard of SAD and it took three long, hard winters before I was able to put a name to what was going on with me.”
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of clinical depression associated with the change of seasons. According to Mayo Clinic, physical symptoms of fall and winter SAD include low energy, a heavy feeling in arms and legs, and cravings for high-carb foods. The more mental, intangible symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, problems getting along with people, and severe emotional reactions to rejection. These symptoms, felt consistently, signal a need for professional help.
No one really knows why people get seasonal affective disorder, though some believe it has to do with days being shorter during the fall and winter months. Serotonin and melatonin levels, which regulate mood and sleep respectively, have also been linked to SAD. Women are particularly susceptible; they’re four times more likely to experience the disorder than their male counterparts.
Here are some ways you can combat SAD.
3 ways to fight seasonal affective disorder
See a doctor
Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication are both pathways to overcoming SAD, especially if the feelings become oppressive. But before you can receive either treatment, it’s important to see a medical professional. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, the best thing you can do is seek a formal diagnosis.
Lack of daylight is considered a major risk factor for developing SAD. In a 2015 study, participants who received light therapy saw a similar easing of symptoms to those who received cognitive behavioral therapy. However, they only had those results while they used the lights. Though psychotherapy is considered the best treatment for long term results (and the most effective in preventing relapse), light therapy has been found to at least temporarily get results.
There are even lights specially made to mimic day light for those trying to fight the winter blues.
A balanced diet is essential for both physical and mental health. The healthier the food, the more likely you are to make other healthy choices throughout your day. Exercise is also a great mood booster. Try taking a long walk to clear your mind, or join a gym.