With the days getting shorter and colder, many people will experience seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a form of depression caused by the change of seasons. People who have struggled with depression or bipolar disorder are particularly vulnerable. Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed most of the time, having little energy or motivation, losing interest in things you usually enjoy, gaining or losing weight, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, sluggishness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless or worthless, and thoughts of death or suicide. Fall and winter SAD typically results in sleeping too much, eating too much, especially carbs, and having little energy. SAD is thought to be caused by a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, which orchestrates the release of different hormones and neurotransmitters, depends largely on sunlight. The sun comes up and you get a little burst of cortisol that helps wake you up. The sun goes down and your brain starts releasing melatonin to help you sleep. When you wake up in the dark, go to work, then go home in the dark, your circadian rhythm gets disrupted. You feel like you always went to bed too late and got up too early. The farther north you live, the worse this effect is likely to be. This is especially problematic for people with bipolar disorder, who are very sensitive to disruptions in circadian rhythms. Having relatively little sunlight is also a contributing factor. We get most of our vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of conditions, including depression, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and impaired immunity. Too little sunlight might also contribute to a drop in serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with a feeling of wellbeing. Finally, too little sunlight can keep you from getting enough exercise. No one wants to go for a walk when it’s cold and dark outside. Therefore, you lose the mood-lifting benefits of exercise and fresh air as well as the health benefits from exposure to sunlight. It’s normal to feel a bit down in the winter months, but if you feel depressed most of the time, and especially if you’re having thoughts of death or suicide, it’s time to see a doctor. The last thing you want to do is self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Your doctor can prescribe medication or possibly light therapy, or refer you to a qualified therapist.
If you’re struggling with substance use, Recovery Ways can help. We offer intensive outpatient treatment as well as residential treatment. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.