Do you feel sad during this time of the year?

winter blues

By Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press [P360P].
Many people go through short periods when they feel sad. These mood swings begin and end when the seasons change.

People may begin to feel "down" when the days get shorter in the fall and winter - also called the "winter blues" - and begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daylight hours.

In some cases, these mood swings are more severe and can affect the way a person thinks and handles daily activities, says the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). (NIH).

So, if you have noticed significant changes in your mood and behavior every time the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression.

In most cases, SAD symptoms begin in the late fall or early winter and disappear during the spring and summer; this is known as winter pattern SAD or winter depression. 

Some people may experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer pattern SAD or summer depression, however, it is less common.

What are the signs and symptoms of SAD?

SAD is not considered a separate disorder, but a type of depression that is characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting 4 to 5 months per year. Therefore, the signs and symptoms of SAD include those associated with major depression and some specific symptoms that differ for the winter and summer patterns. 

It should be noted that not everyone with SAD will experience all of the symptoms.

Symptoms of major depression may include

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight.
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling lethargic or agitated
  • Have low energy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

For winter pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:

  • Sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, especially with carbohydrate cravings
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like you are hibernating)

Specific symptoms of SAD with summer pattern may include:

  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Lack of appetite, which leads to weight loss.
  • Restlessness and agitation.
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior
  • Get immediate help

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or thinking about harming themselves, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Or you can text the crisis text line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline chat on the Lifeline website. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Who develops ODS?

Millions of American adults may have SAD, although many may not know they have the condition. SAD occurs much more often in women than in men, and is more common in those who live farther north, where there are fewer daylight hours during the winter. For example, people who live in Alaska or New England may be more likely to develop SAD than people who live in Florida. In most cases, SAD begins in adulthood.

What causes SAD?

Scientists do not fully understand what causes SAD. Research indicates that people with SAD may have reduced activity of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. 

Research also suggests that sunlight controls levels of molecules that help maintain normal serotonin levels, but in people with SAD, this regulation does not work properly, resulting in decreased serotonin levels in the winter.

Other findings suggest that people with SAD produce too much melatonin, a hormone essential for maintaining the normal sleep-wake cycle. Overproduction of melatonin may increase sleepiness.

Both serotonin and melatonin help maintain the body's daily rhythm that is linked to the seasonal night-day cycle. In people with SAD, changes in serotonin and melatonin levels disrupt normal daily rhythms. As a result, they can no longer adapt to seasonal changes in day length, leading to changes in sleep, mood, and behavior.

Vitamin D deficiencies can exacerbate these problems because vitamin D is thought to promote serotonin activity. In addition to the vitamin D consumed in the diet, the body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight on the skin. 

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