Do you ever feel like you’ve lost something when the days grow shorter and the leaves start to turn? Maybe it suddenly becomes much more difficult to get up in the morning. Or you find yourself crying for no reason one moment, then snapping at your friends and family the next.
It’s possible that you’ve convinced yourself that you’re just in a rut and need to snap out of it, but if the same thing happens every fall or winter, you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD is a very real and very serious condition that’s believe to affect anywhere from 10-12 million Americans every year, and your chances of getting it go up the further north you live. But simply feeling a little down around the holidays doesn’t necessarily mean you have Seasonal Affective Disorder. To be diagnosed, doctors need to see a number of different things.
So how do you know if you might have SAD? There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so first you have to understand what the disorder entails – and what it doesn’t.
Important Facts to Know About SAD
It’s related to light. Experts believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs due to a lack of light. This explains why the condition happens during the fall and winter and also why light therapy has proven to alleviate symptoms.
Women are more likely to get it. Though men do suffer from SAD, and can often have symptoms that are far worse than their female counterparts, the vast majority of people with SAD are women. How many? Somewhere between 60 and 90% of all people with SAD are women.
SAD is not regular depression. Many people who suffer from depression at other times of the year think they have Seasonal Affective Disorder because that depression grows worse during the winter. However, one of the requirements of being diagnosed with SAD is that you definitively do not have depression in other seasons. Your feelings and symptoms are limited to this one time of year; the rest of the time, you feel and act normally.
There’s a family connection. If someone in your family has SAD, it’s more likely that you will get it. If family members suffer from other forms of depression, psychological disorders, or alcohol abuse, this also raises your chances of having SAD. In fact, 55% of people with SAD have a relative who has been diagnosed with severe depression, and 34% are related to an alcoholic.
Kids don’t get SAD. While it’s quite possible for children and teens to have depressive feelings around the winter and the holidays, experts say that this is not Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD, they’ve found, typically starts around age 20. So if you know a minor dealing with holiday depression, it may be worth testing for other types of depressive disorders.
You can’t “run it off.” Some people believe that SAD is something you can simply snap yourself out of by getting outside more and becoming more physically active. This is unfortunately not true, but their belief does actually come from somewhere. There’s a far milder form of seasonal depression known as the “Winter Blues” where people get a bit sad and lethargic around this time of year. For these people, exercise can help to make the symptoms disappear.
Common SAD Symptoms and What to Do About It
There are all kinds of negative symptoms that SAD can cause. Some people suffer from only one or two. Others experience almost all of them. Severity can also vary overall or from symptom to symptom, and you never really know what it’s going to be like until you go through it yourself.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Body aches
- Crying spells
- Poor sleep
- Overeating (weight gain)
- Decreased activity level
- Trouble concentrating
- Loss of sex drive
Generally speaking, there are three ways to alleviate the symptoms of SAD. You can go to counseling and talk things through with a therapist just like any other psychological condition. Light therapy is available where people are exposed to artificial or natural light for a set time each day. Or you can simply go somewhere with a climate that doesn’t impact you as much. Some people plan vacations around SAD; others up and move to different areas of the country – or world.
If you’d like to know more about available treatments and SAD in general, you should take a look at Yellowbrick’s excellent infographic covering the disorder in detail.