While most people are aware of the physical impacts winter can have on a person’s health, not everyone realizes how harmful winter can be on one’s mental health. As the days get shorter and the temperatures fall, people are not only at risk of getting the flu or common cold but also developing mental illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder. We want to provide our readers with a guide on how to best survive the mental prison that winter can be for some people.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a widespread mental health issue that causes depression-like symptoms. SAD is typically at its height during the winter months and in areas that suffer from longer, harsher winters. It is often dismissed by most people as the “winter blues”, but in reality, it is much more severe than just feeling down.
Causes of SAD
While the exact causes of SAD remain unknown, experts have identified some factors that have a strong correlation with the illness.
Most health experts believe that a drop in serotonin levels is one of the main causes of SAD. Serotonin is a chemical that the body naturally produces that impacts every part of the body, one of the main benefits being improved mood. Reduced sunlight can result in lower levels of serotonin in the brain, which can cause depression.
Another suspected cause of SAD is the disruption of the circadian rhythm. The body’s circadian rhythm is an internal clock that helps regulate feelings based on a 24-hour period. The rhythm helps people feel naturally awake while the sun is up and tired when it is dark out. Therefore, a person’s circadian rhythm can get thrown out of sync in the winter when there is a lack of sunlight. This disruption can cause depression-like symptoms for some.
Symptoms of SAD
As mentioned, SAD produces depression-like symptoms such as intense sadness, irritability, and social withdrawal. If you notice that each and every winter you feel depressed, over-tired, or hopeless, or you begin to overeat and have trouble leaving the house, you may be suffering from SAD. The disease can often take over a person’s life and should be taken seriously.
Complications of SAD
The symptoms of SAD can have a “snowball effect” on a person’s health. What may have just started as some minor depression can lead to many other health issues that need their own diagnoses and treatments.
Sexual complications are an extremely common side effect of SAD. When people are depressed, they are less likely to be able to respond to sexual stimuli, often resulting in problems such as erectile dysfunction and low libido. However, both of these issues are treatable in their own ways. If you notice you are starting to have performance issues in bed, it might be worthwhile to look into some different erectile dysfunction treatments so you can maintain a healthy sex life. Or, if you realize that you just haven’t been in the mood lately, you may have low libido which can be treated with therapy and a change in lifestyle.
Weight gain from SAD can cause a slew of complications itself. If you find that you are packing on the pounds in the winter, you may also be increasing your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other weight-related diseases. Most of these ailments are treatable with a change in lifestyle and diet, but may also require medication.
The first big step in treating SAD is getting diagnosed. As mentioned earlier, most people assume that they are just suffering from the “winter blues”. Once a patient is diagnosed with SAD, doctors typically recommend a few different treatment options depending on the severity of the depression.
Light therapy is usually one of the first treatments recommended. Light treatment is commonly used as it is cost-effective and easy to do yourself. If you think you suffer from SAD, consider purchasing a light therapy lamp.
Another treatment option for those suffering from SAD is to start therapy. Sometimes talking it out is the best treatment. You may realize that your SAD stems from other causes which will lead you to more effective treatments.
Hopefully, with this guide, you can remain healthy this winter. Seasonal affective disorder is a serious mental illness that impacts more than 10 million Americans annually. Take your mental health seriously. If you or someone you know may be suffering, seek help.