This week we have a guest post from Kimberly Hayes of Public Health Alert.
It’s not unusual to feel a little less energetic and less cheery during the long, dark winter months. However, for some people, seasonal sadness is more than the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a serious mental health concern that affects millions of people every year, most of them women. Here’s what you need to know.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD typically affects people during the late fall and winter months, although in rare cases, people may experience SAD during the summer.
SAD dissipates when the seasons change, but it can seriously impact sufferers’ well-being during the winter. As with all major depression, people affected by SAD experience:
● Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
● Fatigue and low energy.
● Difficulty concentrating.
● Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and relationships.
● Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Who Gets SAD?
While anyone can experience SAD, certain risk factors make it more likely:
● A history of mental health problems: People with bipolar disorder or a personal or family history of depression are more prone to SAD.
● Living far from the equator: Locations further from the equator receive fewer hours of winter daylight, making residents more vulnerable to SAD.
● Being a young adult: Although SAD can affect people of any age, onset is most common during the reproductive years.
● Being female: According to The American Institute of Stress, women are four times as likely to suffer from SAD than men.
SAD and Your Fertility
Seasonal affective disorder makes it difficult to keep your fertility goals on track. As Bustle reports, “Seasonal Affective Disorder and the mood changes that go with it can not only cause stress in your romantic life, it can lead to a lack of interest in sex.” Furthermore, weight gain or loss due to changes in eating habits and carbohydrate cravings can cause hormonal imbalances that interrupt your menstrual cycles and decrease fertility.
In one of nature’s cruel jokes, winter is also the season when sperm is the strongest. So if you’re trying to get pregnant with your male partner, it’s a good time to get busy—if you can get in the mood. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done for women who experience SAD.
For women trying to conceive, taking winter off isn’t an option. Even if pregnancy isn’t on your radar, taking steps to keep SAD symptoms at bay can improve your wellness during the winter months.
While there’s no surefire way to prevent SAD, there are a few things you can do to reduce risk and alleviate symptoms:
● Stay active: Exercise promotes positive moods, relieves stress, and increases energy levels, making it a powerful tool in the fight against winter depression. Resist the urge to hibernate through winter and instead find creative ways to stay active in cold weather.
● Eat right: SAD causes cravings for simple carbohydrates, but overindulging on bread, pasta, and sweets only leaves you feeling worse after the brief serotonin boost, and it’s not good for your hormones either. Instead, focus on eating foods rich in Omega-3 fats and vitamin D, and stick to whole grains to sate carb cravings.
● Get enough vitamin D: At certain latitudes, it’s nearly nearly impossible to get vitamin D from sunlight during the short days of winter. Since low vitamin D is linked to depression, it’s important to make sure you get adequate vitamin D each day from diet or supplements. Talk to your doctor to determine your recommended vitamin D intake.
● Bring summer indoors: Outside may be gray and dreary, but that doesn’t mean your house has to be. Modify your home to promote positive moods. Use bright daylight bulbs to mimic natural light; fill your home with colorful houseplants; decorate with bright, cheery colors rather than dark, wintry hues; and hang artwork that motivates and inspires you.
The one blessing of seasonal affective disorder is that it passes with time. However, when you’re in the depths of winter depression, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In addition to taking the steps mentioned above, talk to your doctor and seek support from loved ones for help getting through the season.