Is the Winter Season Making You Sick?
By Caitlin Boyle
Is winter season making you sick? Winter can be a wonderland, but it can also be a little dreary.
If you find yourself feeling sad around the same time of year every year, it may be more than the winter blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, most commonly in the winter.
“Everyone experiences sadness from time to time, but SAD is a completely different animal,” explains Nicole Saunders, LCSW, a therapist and life coach in Charlotte, NC. “General sadness tends to be more circumstantial and transient; for example, you received a negative performance review at work that leaves you feeling down for a few days. On the other hand, symptoms of SAD are persistent and enduring, difficult to shake off, and cyclical in nature.”
Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, unhappiness or irritability; decreased energy; an inability to concentrate; loss of interest in work and hobbies; feelings of sluggishness; decreased concentration; and social withdrawal.
In contrast to other types of depression, which often trigger weight loss, SAD can cause increased appetite with weight gain, most likely due to eating a little extra comfort food. Women get SAD more often than men do, and people who live in places with long winter nights are more likely to be afflicted with SAD.
Since SAD is closely tied to the season, when warmer weather returns and days become longer, most people who suffer from SAD begin to feel better. However, SAD may develop into long-term depression.
Experts believe that SAD is caused by decreased levels of daylight. Lower light levels may cause an increased production of melatonin, which can trigger feelings of sleepiness and lethargy, and a decreased production of serotonin, which can instigate feelings of depression. Melatonin and serotonin can also interfere with a person’s sleep cycles and mood.
As with other types of depression, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist or a friend, family member or spiritual advisor that you trust. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep habits, may also help. Be sure to speak to a professional immediately if your depression worsens or you have thoughts about harming yourself.
A special lamp that mimics sunlight may also relieve symptoms of SAD. Light therapy should be initiated during the fall or winter, before the onset of SAD symptoms. Your mood will improve within three to four weeks if light therapy will be effective for your condition.
is a professional blogger, motivational speaker, and author of the book Healthy Tipping Point: A Powerful Program for a Stronger, Happier You. She helps her husband run a holistic health clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina.