Feel Like Hibernating In The Winter? You May Have Seasonal Depression.
Flashback to elementary school science class. Remember learning about bears? They eat extra food to pack on a few additional pounds before the first frost. As the cold weather set in, bears cosy down in their beds and snooze away the months, awaking just as the frost begins to melt.
Isn’t it tempting to adopt that lifestyle as humans?
I wouldn’t mind eating extra portions of Thanksgiving dinner, and I certainly wouldn’t turn down trays of Christmas cookies. And then, after the holidays, I could retreat into a pile of blankets until the weather gives birth to the sunny, colorful season of Spring.
Alas, I’m not Cinderella because that dream will never come true. But if you wish you could hibernate like a bear during the Winter, you may have seasonal affective disorder.
What is seasonal depression?
This disorder is called by a handful of names:
- Seasonal depression
- Seasonal affective disorder
- SAD (yes, that’s actually the acronym)
- Winter blues
SAD is a recurring major depressive disorder, which means that it happens annually, often beginning in the Fall and disappearing by Spring. Occasionally it will exhibit in the summer season, although that is quite rare.
Every bear fattens up before their slumber, but they probably eat different foods and sleep in various places. People are similar. Every individual experiences different symptoms, some of which may include:
- Weight gain
- Cravings for carbs or sweets
- Decreased energy
- Less physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep troubles (insomnia, oversleeping, or trouble falling asleep)
- Disinterest in social activities
- Sadness or hopelessness
Do I need a formal diagnosis?
It’s estimated that approximately 15 million Americans struggle with some form of SAD, although many just claim it’s the Winter Blues. Women experience SAD more than men, and most individuals don’t experience it for the first time until adulthood, ages 18-30.
However, you need to have your symptoms for at least two years in a row, beginning and ending around the same time. For example, you felt lethargic, gained weight, stopped exercising, and had trouble sleeping from November through March for the previous two years.
If you believe you have seasonal depression, don’t ignore it as a case of the Wintertime Blues. Symptoms are treatable. Ignoring them will not turn your SADness into gladness.
Treatment for SAD
The cause of seasonal depression is unknown. There are a few hypotheses related to Vitamin D, serotonin, and melatonin, yet none have been fully backed by scientific research. Thankfully there are multiple treatment methods.
- Doctor visit. Have your primary care physician screen you for any underlying causes, such as hypothyroidism, anemia, or a viral infection.
- Circadian rhythm. Individuals who experience SAD tend to have a sensitive body clock. Monitor your reaction, mood, and energy with sunrise and sunset.
- Vitamin D. Aim to absorb at least 15 minutes of sunshine everyday, even if that means you need to wear a hat and mittens and snow boots. Vitamin D is essential to your body’s functioning and mood, especially during the cold months of the year.
- Sleep pattern. Establish a routine bedtime and wake time, and limit naps in between.
- Healthy diet. Curb your carbs and sweet cravings by consuming enough protein. Protein gives your body energy and helps your feel fuller for longer.
- Light therapy. Spending 20 to 30 minutes in front of a light box is one of the most effective treatments for SAD. Sit approximately 1 to 2 feet away from the light and allow it to mimic the sunshine and boost your mood.
- Be active. A few minutes of exercise every day keeps the doctor away! I know that’s not how the rhyme actually goes, but it’s applicable to SAD. You’re already sluggish and eating more than normal. Physical exertion will increase your energy levels and keep you body fit.
- Plan ahead. Find things to look forward to, like holiday gathers, dinner parties with friends, or a weekend retreat. Even hygge activities like eating dinner with candles, wearing snuggly slippers at the end of the work day, or having pizza every Friday night can help you endure your seasonal depression.
- Seek help. Imagine how cranky a hungry grizzly bear would be if he had to skip his annual slumber. If you feel like that, you can get help. There are medications and forms of therapy that can ease your symptoms so you can function like normal again.
My SAD is bad. Help!
Have you lived your life dreading the Winter Blues every single year? Have the pandemic and lockdowns made your SADness even worse?
You don’t have to hibernate like a bear. In fact, we think you’re great and we don’t want you to disappear for a few months per year!
Let’s talk about it. Call us today so we can counsel you through your Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s time to say goodbye to months of hibernation and hello to being yourself all year round.
Clinical Director and Co-Owner at Redeemed Life Counseling