The shorter days and colder weather of winter can make anyone feel gloomy. We tend to stay inside more, we tire more easily, and we may get cranky, too. But if these feelings recur each year and make it tough to function during the winter months, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is largely attributed to the decrease in the amount of sunlight available during the winter months, which has been shown to trigger depressive episodes in many people. In fact, roughly 16 million Americans—many of them women— experience the disorder. SAD can affect your health, your relationships, and your everyday activities. But no matter how hopeless you feel, there are things you can do to keep your mood and your life stable throughout the year.
First, it’s important to learn the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. They often look very similar to those of depression and may include:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble concentrating
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Weight gain
How can you get the best care for SAD? It’s never too late get help if you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Seeking treatment can help prevent them from becoming worse. You can schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or with a mental health professional. Prior to your appointment, take some notes about the frequency and nature or your symptoms, other mental and physical health concerns you have, and observations about what helps your depression or makes it worse. You should also list specific questions you might have for your medical provider. The Mayo Clinic suggests asking the following:
- Are my symptoms likely caused by SAD, or could they be due to something else?
- What else could be causing or worsening my symptoms of depression?
- What are the best treatment options?
- Would using a light box help my symptoms?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow or steps I should take to help improve my mood?
- Should I see a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional?
- Are medications likely to improve my symptoms?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medication you’re prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
- What treatments have your patients found helpful in the past?
- Are there any behavioral changes I can make today to help my mood?
Don’t hesitate to ask other questions that may arise during your appointment.
Your medical provider is likely to ask you a number of questions, as well. Be prepared to answer them so you have time to go over anything for which you may need clarification. He or she may ask:
- What are your symptoms?
- When did you first begin having symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How do your symptoms impact your daily activities?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do you have any other physical or mental health conditions?
- Are you taking any medications, supplements or herbal remedies?
- Do you use alcohol or recreational drugs?
- Do any of your blood relatives have SAD or another mental health condition?
If you have a more severe case of seasonal affective disorder, your medical provider might want to prescribe antidepressant medication during the fall and winter months or refer you to a therapist to help you cope with symptoms. It’s smart to take the necessary steps to improve your mood instead of letting winter get the better of you!