Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”) is a type of depression that occurs in the fall as the seasons change and the days become shorter and the temperature cooler. Many people notice a change in their mood and energy level including feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of energy or motivation (and desire to stay indoors where it is warm), and may also notice changes in their appetite and sleep patterns, such as craving and eating more carbohydrates (such as bread or pasta), or sleeping more.
Many people begin experiencing these symptoms in October and the symptoms usually continue until spring. Although the exact cause of SAD is unknown, it is believed to be related to a lack of sunlight (as we’ve discussed in a previous blog, sunlight correlates to higher serotonin levels which is linked to positive moods). The lack of sunlight may not only affect a person’s serotonin levels but may also affect a person’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake pattern) which, in turn, affects mood.
The holidays that occur in the winter months may also exacerbate mood changes in those who have recently experienced loss, especially the loss of loved ones, as we often associate holidays as a time of joy and “togetherness” of family. SAD may also exacerbate depression in people who have already been struggling with depression.
Although it may be difficult to distinguish between SAD and depression, you may consider how your daily functioning is affected by these symptoms listed above and consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional about treatment options.