SAD, Is it Seasonal Affective Disorder?

   Written by on January 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Welcome to winter in the Mid-Atlantic.  What can we look forward to during our winter season: cloudy days, barren landscapes, short days, long nights, harsh winds, and generally just gloomy days?  These gray overcast days can affect you both physically and emotionally.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is common disorder.  Take this simple quiz: if you answered “yes” to these questions, you may experience SAD.  1) In late fall, do you begin feeling lethargic and craving carbohydrates?  2) As the season progress into winter, do you withdraw from people and stay indoors as much as possible?  3)  Every fall, do you start dreading the upcoming winter?

logo - gowin So what is the difference between SAD and general depression?  First, SAD affects you during the gray winter months.  Your feeling of sadness will go away as the days get longer and lighter in the spring and summer.  Your seasonal depression must also happen for several years in a row.  We all have occasional winter blahs; that does not equal SAD.  Before jumping to the conclusion that you have SAD, you should also look for other reasons for the winter sad feelings.  The change of seasons can rekindle the memories of negative life events.

The absence of light, as the result of both shorter daylight hours of winter days and the general grayness of winter-overcast sky, can cause SAD.  SAD can also be influenced by boredom.  Cold, gray days can influence us to hang out inside with a general limitation on our activities.  Studies have shown that February is the least favorite month of Americans.  February means left over Christmas bills, IRS tax return seasons and short gray days.

When you look outside and it is bright sunny day, don’t you think what a nice day, let’s go do something.  Now what is your reaction to a cloudy day? We describe these days as gloomy.  Our bodies actually produce different levels of hormones based on the amount of sunlight to which we are exposed.  The pineal gland, which is located in the middle of the brain, is responsible for the production of melatonin.  Melatonin is a hormone, which maintains the body’s circadian rhythm.  The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up.  When it is dark, your body produces more melatonin; when it is light, the production of melatonin drops.  The farther away one lives from the equator, the more common SAD is because the hours of sunlight dramatically decrease.  Light, specifically the color distribution of light, is the key to SAD.

Ok, so I think I have SAD, now what?  Your first step is to see your medical professional who will rule out if there is a medical condition such as anemia, thyroid dysfunction, or a side effect of medication that could be the key to your symptoms.  The next step is to ask a professional counselor who will help you look at other issues that are causing your emotional distress.  Are you influenced by an anniversary of a loss?  Does winter bring financial stress because of overspending at Christmas or because of less hours of work?  Let’s assume all the other possibilities are eliminated, the best advice is to get as much natural sunlight as possible.  You can acquire full spectrum lamps.  You should also make every attempt to go outside during the day.  Winter is not the time to develop the habit of being a full time couch potato.  Try joining a gym and you could be working towards solving two problems.  Ask your friends to join with you; having a strong support network is always important.

Sad times come and they can pass.  This winter season will soon end.  Always remember that behind those thick, gray clouds is a personal, caring God.  You are never alone; take it by faith that He is always here.

 You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  Psalm 18:28 

About Cheryl & Dennis Gowin

Cheryl Gowin, Counselor and Dennis Gowin, Director of Discovery Counseling Center. Contact us with your feedback, comments, issues or questions at 434-808-2426 or dgowin@discoverycounseling.org.

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