WASHINGTON, December 26, 2014 – With shorter, cooler days with darkness creeping ever earlier into our afternoons, a lot of people find that they feel a bit sad, lethargic, and moody.
“I hate how quickly it gets dark,” we tell our friends. Or simply ask: “Why is winter so depressing?”
Having mild versions of these feelings is pretty natural, and many of us experience them in one way or another. But there are some people for whom this seasonal malaise is truly serious – a real psychological condition for which they may need to seek help.
It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and it is believed to affect somewhere between 10 and 12 million Americans.
What Happens with SAD and How Can You Alleviate It?
People who are truly suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder can experience all kinds of frustrating and debilitating symptoms that medical professionals associate with the condition:
- Sleep difficulties
- Body aches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Crying spells
- Overeating and weight gain
- Decreased activity level
- Loss of sex drive
Those diagnosed with SAD have a couple of different treatment options available to them – some more drastic than others.
Light treatment. Exposing people who suffer from SAD to artificial or natural light for a set period of time every day has been shown to reduce symptoms in a significant percentage of those who are affected. Within 2 to 4 days of starting this therapy, 80% are said to experience benefits. Because of this, it is one of the most successful ways to help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Therapy. Because SAD is a form of depression, some people find that their symptoms can be alleviated by seeking out counseling just as they would if they had some other depressive condition. Therapists provide SAD sufferers with a place where they can open up about what they are going through and relieve themselves of a bit of the burden.
Changing location. Since Seasonal Affective Disorder is truly something that is related to the changing climate and weather, something that has been shown to help many with the condition is to relocate to a more hospitable climate. There are those who literally pack up their lives and move somewhere that they won’t have to deal with falling leaves and snow, but relocation doesn’t have to be that drastic.
A lot of people find that it’s beneficial to plan their vacations around the time of year that SAD starts to affect them or their loved ones. They leave for the “bad” season and come back when things are better.
But just because you get a little mopey during the winter doesn’t mean that you need to change your life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have SAD.
The Difference between SAD and the “Winter Blues”
As was mentioned above, there are lots of people who are negatively affected by changing seasons and colder weather – far more than the 10 to 12 million believed to actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Instead, these people are likely suffering from something typically known as the “winter blues.”
Though the name may sound a bit silly, it’s a real psychological phenomenon recognized by doctors, and there are ways to combat it, just like you can fight SAD. But before you decide that you definitely have one condition or the other, you should know some of the things that define Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD is more common the further north you live. While 1.4% of sufferers live in Florida, 9.7% live in New Hampshire.
More women have SAD than men. A lot more, actually. Experts estimate that somewhere between 60 and 90% of all SAD sufferers are women. However, when men do get the disease, their symptoms tend to be worse.
SAD usually doesn’t start until someone’s about 20 years old. So if you’re younger than that or have a child who seems to be suffering from depression, it’s probably not Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It may be genetic. Though there is no definitive medical proof, SAD tends to run in families, so if a relative has it, you are more likely to get it.
Exercise doesn’t alleviate SAD. If you find that you feel better after engaging in physical activity, you probably don’t have SAD. It is far more likely you’re suffering from the winter blues.
SAD means you are only depressed seasonally. People who deal with severe sadness multiple times during the year, in addition to during the winter, do not have SAD, but are likely suffering from another kind of depression.
To learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how to determine if you have it, take a look at Yellowbrick’s thorough infographic on the subject.