Along with the cooler temperatures comes shorter days. Is the lack of sunlight giving you the blues, or is it something more serious? Find out, here.
Love the crisp autumn and winter air but hate how depressed you feel when the sun begins to set hours earlier than it did a few weeks ago? You may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, a type of depression triggered by seasonal light changes. In most cases, symptoms begin during late fall or early winter and start to fade away as the days become longer during spring. However, some people get SAD in spring or summer—it’s just less common. Either way, symptoms include loss of interest in things that you once enjoyed, lack of energy, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, a strong desire to sleep, or changes in appetite or weight. Thankfully though, the condition can be treated.
“It really is a manageable thing,” Dr. Janis Louise Anderson, an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says of the condition.
You may have heard about light therapy, or phototherapy, as a popular treatment for SAD. Psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes can also help. There are many things, however, that you may not know about this type of depression, especially when it comes to how it affects your weight. To help you make more informed decisions about your health and weight maintenance strategies, we gathered some must-know information about SAD that everyone should know before the darker days of autumn arrive.
1. It Has Genetic Ties
2. SAD Can Start in the Autumn
Despite conventional wisdom, SAD doesn’t simply begin with the winter solstice. People typically begin experiencing SAD during late September or October, and it gradually gets worse as winter begins, says Anderson. If you tend to exercise less in the fall, you may want to make a conscious effort to move more to counteract the feelings of depression and ward off the associated weight gain.
3. Women with Other Mood Disorders Are at Risk
Long-term studies have found that about one-third of SAD patients have another type of mood disorder. Research also suggests that SAD occurs four times more often in women than in men, however, some sources say that men have more severe symptoms. While these 20 Foods That Put You in a Bad Mood certainly won’t increase your risk for the condition, they certainly won’t help, so be sure to stay away!
4. You Need to Get Diagnosed
Not sure if you have SAD? Ask perceptive family members and friends if they’ve noticed that your behavioral patterns happen to correlate with the seasons. And most importantly, talk to your doctor. To diagnose SAD, you must experience symptoms for two consecutive years in a row, notes Dr. Linda Higley, a psychologist based in Washington. “The main thing is to take it seriously and reach out [for help],” adds Anderson.
5. There’s Hope
6. It Makes You Crave Carbs
7. The Stigma Is Diminishing
8. You Can Eat to Ease Symptoms
That giant bowl of spaghetti may make be exactly what you’re craving but you’re better off indulging in a healthier source of carbs like pulse pasta or unprocessed oats, which will boost levels of serotonin (the mood-boosting, feel-good hormone that’s lower in those with SAD) without causing additional energy dips. Omega-3 fatty acids can also increase levels of the happy hormone, making things like spinach, grass-fed beef, walnuts, and fatty fish smart diet additions. Vitamin D supplements and sources of the nutrient (like wild salmon, eggs, tuna, and fortified milk) can also help, says Dr. Linda Higley, a Washington-based psychologist. Though the reason why isn’t clear, there’s been a link established between low vitamin D levels and various mood disorders, including SAD.
Just be sure you’re not eating any of the 17 Foods That Make Your Depression or Anxiety Worse.
9. You May Gain Weight
10. Your Location Matters
SAD isn’t about the cold; rather, it’s a result of the lack of light available as the days grow shorter, Higley says. The farther north you live in the U.S., the more prone you are to experiencing SAD. Just 1% of Floridians experience SAD, while 9% of those living in Alaska are plagued with the condition. In New York, 17% of the population has SAD while a few hours north, 20% of New Hampshire residents have it. All and all, about 6% of the U.S. population suffers from the condition.