SAD: Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder You Should Never Ignore

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

When winter comes, we have an instinctual urge to hunker down, stay bundled up, and stay indoors. It’s almost like an animal response.

Our bodies know that when the cold and the dark set in, we just know that it’s time to move a little slower.

Unfortunately for some people, it goes further and can start interfering with their lives and their happiness.

When the winter brings feelings of depression, sadness, and isolation, it’s known as seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, an apt acronym), and it affects millions of people during the dark winter months.

In fact, the farther north from the Equator you go, the more people you’ll find affected by this disorder.

Many people might feel a slump when it starts getting darker earlier and earlier, but for most, a few simple actions can make them feel worlds better. However, for those with SAD, it’s not always so simple.

Luckily, knowing how to identify SAD and to distinguish it from simple cabin fever is the first step in managing it. There are many things you can do, both at home and with the help of a medical professional, to lessen the symptoms and maybe even start liking winter!

Read on to see if your winter blahs are something more serious, and what you can do to break out of the cycle.

Thumbnail Photos: Flickr, 2

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

<u>What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?</u>
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a sub-type of depression that appears in people during certain seasons, most commonly during the winter.

Depending on where you live, your chances of getting SAD will vary. People who live closer to the Equator will have a lower chance of SAD than people who live father north.

For example, SAD affects 1.4% of Florida’s population, but it affects about 10% of the population in New Hampshire and Alaska.

SAD tends to be more prevalent in women and in younger people — and for those who experience it, SAD can be a difficult struggle every year.

What Causes SAD?

<u>What Causes SAD?</u>
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There are many theories about why people get SAD.

Some suggest an evolutionary origin, as many animals decrease their activity in the winter to conserve energy when food is scarce.

Other theories say that the increased darkness slows the production of serotonin, which makes us feel good.

Darkness also triggers the release of melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy, and plays a key role in hibernation.

The change in daylight hours also alters our circadian rhythm, and the disturbance in our natural sleep clocks can also trigger SAD symptoms.

Read on to learn the symptoms of SAD, and what you can do to manage it.

Symptoms Of SAD
SAD Symptom #1: Unusual Sleep Patterns

<u>Symptoms Of SAD</u><br>SAD Symptom #1: Unusual Sleep Patterns
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Just like a bear wanting to hibernate and sleep the winter away, many people with SAD find it difficult to get out of bed during the winter.

Many sufferers of SAD also start to feel sleepy earlier in the evening. Many attribute it to the increased darkness.

Increased sleeping or sleeping at unusual times, such as late into the morning or very early in the evening, is a very common symptom of SAD.

SAD Symptom #2: Increased Appetite, Especially For Carbs

SAD Symptom #2: Increased Appetite, Especially For Carbs
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The winter months make a lot of people hungry, but people with SAD may find that their appetites spike at the onset and throughout the winter.

Those who experience SAD often crave carbohydrates like bread, pasta, or cereal. These are classic “comfort foods,” and they’re also a way to pack on extra weight, the way animals do before the cold sets in.

This can lead to weight gain and digestive issues, especially if you find yourself eating a lot of refined carbs.

SAD Symptom #3: Lethargy And Extreme Tiredness

SAD Symptom #3: Lethargy And Extreme Tiredness
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If you have SAD, all you want to do is sleep.

Even if you’re getting a proper amount (or more) of sleep, you may feel sluggish and sleepy throughout the day. In fact, a lot of sleep can make you feel even more sleepy.

This tiredness can also affect your ability to concentrate on tasks and get things done. You’ll just feel fatigued and like all you want to do is close your eyes and put your head down.

SAD Symptom #4: Heavy-Feeling Limbs

SAD Symptom #4: Heavy-Feeling Limbs
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If if feels hard, but not painful, to move your body, SAD might be the culprit. Your limbs will feel like big sandbags attached to your body, and you may also experience the feeling of your muscles being tired and sore.

Actually moving, however, shouldn’t be painful.

SAD Symptom #5: Withdrawal And Sadness

SAD Symptom #5: Withdrawal And Sadness
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Like with regular depression, SAD makes you feel, well, sad.

People with SAD will generally feel less sociable in the winter, and may withdraw from friends and family, preferring to be alone.

You might also find that activities you normally enjoy don’t seem as pleasurable in the winter.

What Can You Do About SAD?
SAD Remedy #1: Take Advantage Of The Sunshine

<u>What Can You Do About SAD?</u><br>SAD Remedy #1: Take Advantage Of The Sunshine
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Though the days may be short in winter, you can still soak up some sun.

Take a walk in the middle of the day, or bundle up and take a favorite book or knitting project outside.

Don’t like the cold? No problem. Sit by a sunny window, and open all your blinds and curtains during the day to let in as much light as possible.

If you’re at work, take breaks throughout the daylight hours to stand by a window and get some light.

SAD Remedy #2: Bring The Light Inside

SAD Remedy #2: Bring The Light Inside
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If the hours of sunshine aren’t enough for you, fake it!

A phototherapy lamp mimics sunlight and gives your body its effects, even during dark hours.

These lamps are said to improve moods in those who use them. If you’re concerned about what they might do, talk to your doctor or therapist about their use.

Another way to feel better is to not let your house feel gloomy at night. Just turn on the lights!

SAD Remedy #3: Get Active

SAD Remedy #3: Get Active
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

A great way to boost you mood is to get your body moving. This will also help with that heavy, sluggish feeling in your limbs.

Take a walk in the brisk air. Go sledding and make snow angels with your kids.

If you prefer to stay indoors, try some simple stretches or yoga to get your blood flowing. You’ll feel more alert and awake, too.

SAD Remedy #4: Talk To A Professional

SAD Remedy #4: Talk To A Professional
Tayra Lucero for LittleThings

Sometimes you need a little extra help. If you really feel despondent and despairing, it might be time to seek professional help.

SAD might just sound like winter blues, but it’s no joke, and is even linked to increased alcohol intake, drug abuse, and suicide in many places.

So, if you really feel down, talk to someone as soon as possible.

Do you ever feel blue in the winter? SHARE this information to make sure your friends and family know about this common disorder!