While most people feel a little lethargic come wintertime, 40-year-old Jenn Hicks struggles with seasonal changes more than most. “I sleep more, am less motivated at work and can feel like winter will actually never end,” says the Toronto-based speech pathologist. “One spring, I recall being surprised when I saw buds on the trees.”
For Hicks, these feelings don’t go away a few days after the cold appears – they last the entire winter. If that sounds familiar, then you may, like Hicks, be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, or the winter blues. “It’s a type of depression brought on by a lack of sunlight,” says Dr. Angelos Halaris, a psychiatrist who specializes in depression at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. According to studies, SAD affects between six percent and 20 percent of people in North America, it’s four times more common in women, and it’s more likely to affect those living in places that get less sun in the winter months.
SAD affects between six percent and 20 percent of people in North America and it’s four times more common in women.
But how do you know if you actually have SAD, and it’s not just the cold and snow getting you down? Dr. Halaris points out that symptoms such as oversleeping, low energy and negative thinking – all classic signs of SAD – persist beyond a few days. Other signs include irritability, an inability to concentrate, lack of pleasure in normally enjoyable activities, cravings for carbohydrates, withdrawing from social activities and, in serious cases, suicidal thoughts. “If these symptoms continue for two consecutive seasons, see a mental health professional for a diagnosis,” he says.
One common treatment is using a light box that emits a specific type of blue light for 30 to 60 minutes a day. Yoga has been known to improve energy levels too. If nothing works, then medication may be required. Hicks still struggles with SAD, but a combination of drugs and self-care has helped. “I force myself to be around positive people and be more mindful of being good to myself in the winter,” she says. “Regular exercise and vacations are also key parts of keeping it at bay.”
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