Imagine a bright sunny day, where the weather is warm and energizing. You can feel the sunlight on your skin, and hear the waves of the lake on a beach. The sky is a bright blue, and the grass is a dazzling green. People are out and about all day, walking and talking with one another. How does this image make you feel? Do you see yourself smiling and laughing in such a scene? Now let’s imagine a different scene. The ground is covered with cold, white snow. The wind is harsh and cold pushing snow everywhere, making it impossible to walk outside. The sky is grey and cloudy with no sun in sight. The days are short and the nights are long as most of our time is spent in the dark. There are fewer people outdoors as most prefer to stay in their homes to escape the cold. Now ask yourself how you would feel in such an environment. Most of us would agree that you would be less happy, less lively, and would feel tired. Why is it that the winter brings upon a sort of sadness?
According to Mayo Clinic, change in one’s mood, behaviour and energy levels can be attributed to Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People who experience SAD are triggered by changes in weather. Usually in the beginning of fall or beginning of winter, people who have SAD will find that they are moodier, more lethargic, unmotivated, and find themselves feeling sad. But, SAD is more than just feeling sad as it is a type of depression.
Who experiences seasonal depression?
The majority of people experience ‘winter blues’ – a mild version of seasonal depression. According to the American Family Physician, around 4-6 percent of people have SAD. Another 10 percent of people have a mild version of SAD. Though teens and children can have SAD, it becomes observable in young adults.
What are some symptoms of SAD?
Some common symptoms of SAD are listed below as:
- Elevated anxiety
- Easily irritable
- Sleeping for longer hours
- Self-harming thoughts
- Loss of interest in hobbies/activities
- Weight gain
- Limbs becoming heavy
Why do people experience seasonal depression?
There are many reasons provided by experts, some of which are neurological and some reasons are based on environment and poor mental health
- Hormonal changes
During winter, people go through changes of their internal clocks as the nights are suddenly longer than the day. There will be times when your body wishes to sleep because it is dark outside, but a rational part of our brains says that it is too early to sleep. The decrease in exposure to sun will change a person’s internal clock which is in charge of mood, sleep and hormones. The changes in hormonal balances can cause moodiness, irritability and tiredness in people.
- Chemical Imbalance
Scientists have linked winter with a decrease in serotonin in the human brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, in charge of feelings of reward and happiness. The presence of sunlight also plays a role in the release of serotonin, but the lack of sun adds to the decrease of serotonin. With less serotonin, it is easier and more likely to feel sadness.
- Less Vitamin D
As living beings, we need sunlight to live. Though it may not be as obvious as how plants need sunlight, humans receive vitamin D from the sun. The decrease in sunlight causes vitamin-D deficiency in the winter which causes fatigue and weakness of the muscles.
How is SAD treated?
The most common and popular treatment is light therapy. If prescribed by a doctor, you may use a light box or light visor each day for approximately 30 minutes. The light box is a box that has a white fluorescent light bulb which is covered in a plastic screen. The plastic screen will block out the UV rays, but the box emits a light that is 20 times brighter than typical lighting indoors. Some boxes can be placed in the corner of a room while some boxes are meant to be for 30 minutes usage at the time of the day when one feels the most sad. The light visor is a similar concept except that it is more like a hat that is worn for 30 minutes. Doing light therapy too late in the day won’t produce any results.
Another option for students, teens, and adults who are experiencing ‘winter blues’, it is recommended to find someone who you can talk to. This can either be a parent, sibling, friend, or therapist, but it is important to keep social and in touch with people during the winter when everyone is feeling reclusive. Though winter is long, there is always a warmer and brighter side to look forward to!