And I’m not just talking about the days we choose to cancel plans because we’re desperately trying to avoid the cold. Or even the days that brisk weather confirms it to be a “do-nothing” day. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), otherwise known as seasonal depression, is a recurrent depressive disorder that affects about 5 percent of American adults and is usually prompted by a shift in seasons. Reported cases of S.A.D. are more commonly attributed to fall and winter months, however, some people are triggered by hot weather in the summer, and even rain.
I first started investigating seasonal depression because my friends and I often talk about how much harder it is to be productive when it gets colder out and how the bed just feels ten times more comfortable when the weather isn’t giving that get you gold no spray tan vibe. Once I dug a little deeper, I realized that we had been unintentionally misdiagnosing ourselves with seasonal depression.
What Makes Seasonal Depression Different From Feeling Sad About the Change In Weather?
The main differentiating factor is right in the name. This kind of depression can rear its head in a seasonal pattern. People who experience S.A.D. symptoms typically begin and end around the same time each year. So if the dip in your mood is consistent throughout the year or has only happened on a single occasion, you should research your symptoms thoroughly and talk to a medical professional to get a more accurate idea of what may be going on.
Seasonal Affective Depression also yields more intense effects that clearly distinguish it from just feeling “over” going outside. It’s important to remember that the D in S.A.D. stands for depression. More severe effects of this disorder can impair an individual’s ability to function. For example, they may be missing work or school, or even start making frequent comments about trying to hold it together all the time, but feeling really unhappy inside.
Another point to highlight is that being triggered by a memory that occurred around the holidays or during a shift in the seasons does not undoubtedly indicate S.A.D. Psychologist Aimee Daramus clarifies, “S.A.D., by definition, is caused by changes in season, and major depression (another term for general clinical depression) is not. If there’s a specific thing you notice, like ‘something really bad once happened to me in November and that’s why I always get depressed in November,’ by definition, that’s not S.A.D. It’s a depression caused by an emotional association with the season.” If this instance resembles your own experience, try looking into trauma associated with the seasons.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Clearly identifying the symptoms of S.A.D. can be tricky because they are similar to those of other disorders. The first questions to always ask are: “Do these symptoms occur at a specific time of the year, each year?” and “Do these symptoms occur in a seasonal pattern?”
Other symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include:
- Drastic changes in areas of your life that are typically steady, such as your sleep pattern, appetite, weight, and energy levels. For example, if you normally have a consistent sleep schedule, you may notice frequent oversleeping or insomnia.
- Having low energy most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
If you have symptoms of depression but you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing major depressive disorder or seasonal affective disorder, a critical next step is to talk to a medical professional.
What Causes S.A.D.?
Specific causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder remain unknown, however experts have come to a consensus on factors that may contribute to this disorder.
S.A.D is often linked to a decrease in serotonin, a chemical in our brains that controls our moods. Lack of light often triggers a decrease in serotonin levels, and fall and winter prompt reduced levels of sunlight. See the connection?
Change in season can also throw off our bodies’ level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
How Do I Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and General Sadness as the Seasons Change?
Experiencing S.A.D. can be a setback in our daily lives, but hang in there sis! This kind of depression is way more common than you think. And it’s okay to not be okay. Noticing the signs and doing your research are the first steps towards getting through. Try these certified mood boosters to keep you fighting through this rough season:
- Sweat the sadness out of your system with a new exercise routine
- Take a vacation – get your mind off the weather by switching up your surroundings
- Get a release by pouring your heart out into your journal
- Take some of the “sunshine vitamin”, better known as vitamin D, which supports health brain function
Featured photo: Unsplash/Baptista Ime James
Kymberly Deane is a writer, content creator, and storyteller based in Brooklyn, New York. Her passion for continual self-improvement and exploring new things has led her to become a health and wellness zealot, with a particular love for sexual health and wellness. She uses her writing to share the gems she discovers throughout her journey.