December 10, 2019
13 Signs You Have Seasonal Depression
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First appeared in Best Life.
The holidays might be the most wonderful time of the year for some people, but for others, winter means the reemergence of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. According to the Cleveland Clinic, winter seasonal depression—which starts to appear in the fall, is at its worst in the winter, and goes away once spring arrives—affects approximately half a million Americans, and it can seriously put a damper on an otherwise jolly season. However, there is a significant difference between the winter blues and SAD—so to help you figure out whether your malaise is something more serious, we've rounded up some of the more common seasonal depression signs.
Seasonal depression is similar to persistent depressive disorder in the sense that it can also cause one's energy levels to diminish. "Like most forms of depression, SAD leaves individuals in a 'groggy' hopeless state," explains Julie Morison, PhD, director and owner of outpatient mental health clinic HPA/LiveWell. "The person's energy level is very minimal. Patients often do not leave bed."
Grabbing a second (or third) plate on Thanksgiving is hardly a cause for concern. However, if you find yourself eating more than you normally do only in the wintertime, you might be suffering from seasonal depression. "Overeating is something that individuals [with SAD] are drawn to, finding comfort from food to help tend to their 'sadness,'" says Morison.
People with seasonal depression often crave carbohydrates and sugar more than usual once winter comes around. Why? "There is thought to be an imbalance in serotonin—a chemical that influences both mood and some cravings in the body," explains Chirag Shah, MD, an emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Push Health. In other words, if your go-to comfort foods in the winter are cookies and cake, you might have a (treatable!) chemical imbalance to blame.
"Chemical levels in our body shift as the winter months continue to get darker and darker," explains Morison. "As sunlight becomes visible at lower and lower levels, [it] causes a shift in the body's 'biological clock.' SAD causes victims to withdraw from their social surroundings, making it difficult for them to participate in social interactions like they once did."
Do you find yourself struggling to focus on your work as soon as winter starts? Well, according to Brian Wind, PhD, a clinical executive at JourneyPure and a co-chair of the American Psychological Association, this could be a sign that you're dealing with seasonal depression. "There are some usual symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that occur no matter what time of year, like low energy, feeling sluggish or agitated, and problems concentrating," he explains.
Not only are you tapping your foot at work all day—you also can't sit still for more than a few minutes at home, even when your favorite show is on. Sitting down at your desk feels like absolute torture. What gives?
If this restlessness only happens in the winter, you might have SAD to blame. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), an increase in restless activity is one of the more common but subtle seasonal depression signs.
"Low motivation" is another seasonal depression sign to look out for during the winter months, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in mental illness. If the activities that you usually love partaking in now feel more like chores, it might be time to consider seeking professional help.
It's normal to get stressed and angry when someone cuts you off in traffic or when your boss forces you to work on Christmas Eve. According to Daramus, it's when you feel "sad or irritable" for no reason that you might want to consider SAD as the root cause. "Since [SAD] often comes on in the late fall or early winter, it's easy to mistake it for holiday stress, especially if you have a job that gets busier around the holidays," she explains.
There are many things that can cause insomnia—and according to Daramus, one of those is seasonal affective disorder. In fact, one 2013 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that individuals with SAD were more likely to deal with insomnia and undervalue their sleep.
While some SAD sufferers deal with insomnia, others "want to sleep all the time," says Daramus. Indeed, the Mayo Clinic notes both oversleeping and tiredness as symptoms of the season-specific depression.
Seasonal depression can wreak havoc on your emotional wellbeing. "Emotionally, [SAD] is a roller coaster," explains Leigh Richardson, LPC, head of the Brain Performance Center in Dallas. "You go from being numb and hopeless to agitated and irritable," she says, usually without any triggers.
Have you been feeling guilty about things even when you have no reason to? According to the APA, feeling worthless or guilty is another potential sign of seasonal depression, so make sure to bring this up with a professional who can help you get to the bottom of things.
With SAD, Richardson notes that "some people actually experience [physical] pain, [since] pain lives in the brain." Specifically, the American Academy of Family Physicians' website FamilyDoctor.org lists headaches as one of the ways in which SAD can manifest physically.
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