We have all been there; tired, stressed, worn out, irritated, depressed, anxious. Sometimes, we feel all of these things at once and sometimes in waves. With the year coming to end and recycling of restrictions, seasonal depression or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has increased 62% when compared to screenings from 2019 with the majority affecting women compared to men.
How does SAD rise in the fall and winter months?
Studies have shown a multitude of reasons that can contribute but rare is it that only one cause stands to reason.
- Serotonin: people with SAD typically are not able to regulate their serotonin levels (feel good hormone) whether it is due to the levels of serotonin or their uptake receptors in the brain.
- Melatonin: this chemical helps regulate circadian rhythm and is released more regularly in times or darkness which increases during the fall and winter months as the sun appears for shorter lengths of time, giving us the feeling of “shorter days” on a biochemical level. In patients more susceptible to SAD, studies have shown higher levels of melatonin during the day compared to those without.
- Vitamin D Deficiency: being one of the necessary substrates in serotonin synthesis has indicated that low levels (whether from lack of sunlight exposure and/or food intake) does affect serotonin levels.
What do the symptoms look like?
Whether you are asking “for a friend” or not is irrelevant when identification early on can really make a difference.
- Loss of interest in a well known activity;
- Appetite irregularities (mainly overeating and craving carbs, or complete lack of interest in food);
- Social withdrawal;
- Low energy;
- Lack of self esteem or feeling worthless.
What can be done to help?
Light therapy has been known to help alleviate some of the symptoms as well as a controlled diet that is rich in vitamin D such as cod, salmon, and herring (wild caught) and professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist if medication is necessary. But what if you are neither a doctor nor a nutritionist? Reach out and simply be a good friend. FaceTime is an easy enough tool to use to plan a quick family check in or call a friend/loved one to see how they are doing. You can also use WhatsApp, Zoom and Facebook Portal. You can send a quick post on social media of a meme or an inspirational quote to make them smile and brighten their day. Even small, safe gatherings can help with the social aspect and lack of human interaction. Games are also a good way to stay entertained and in touch. Some free games you can download and use across all systems include: Mario Kart Tour, Scrabble GO, Kahoot!, Words with Friends, Houseparty, Uno, Psych!, Quiz Up, Life, and Monopoly. Netflix Party is also a thing! It is where you can synchronize playback, talk in the group chat feature but keep in mind it can only be used on a Chrome browser.
How many ways were you able to keep in touch with the people in your life?
Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/seasonal-depressionsad-and-covid-19-complications
National Insitute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml#pub5
“The chronobiology and neurobiology of winter seasonal affective disorder”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202491/he chronobiology and neurobiology of winter seasonal affective disorder