Although fall is a favorite season for many of us, it also is a time of year that may make us feel more vulnerable to dips in mood, especially depression. “SAD” is the acronym for “Seasonal Affective Disorder” and is not a separate diagnosis of depression but refers to a seasonal pattern in experiencing it. Like major depression , worsening symptoms of low energy, foggy brain, difficulty in focusing and making decisions, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, inability to experience pleasure, and even suicidal ideation are indicators. For some, SAD seems like an amorphous blahness and lack of motivation without a specific causative factor.
With fall’s shorter days and less exposure to light, a 1% occurrence of SAD in Florida compared to a 9% incidence for people living in New England or Alaska causes us to note that distance from the equator has something to do with it! Researchers are investigating an increased production of melatonin, a sleep inducer, that is increased in darkness in fall and winter months. People experiencing SAD also tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D, which is increased not only nutritionally, but by exposure to sunlight.
Antidepressants, sunlight and psychotherapy are therapies recommended for treatment of SAD. Recognizing it early helps us to take steps to make ourselves more emotionally resilient during winter months. As always, movement is the opposite of depression. Taking a morning walk without sunglasses may be a good first line of defense. Keeping socially connected with family and friends (holiday season may help or aggravate this!) helps thwart the urge to isolate and hibernate. Bringing worries and troubling memories to therapy also can turn a sad mood around by processing feelings and thinking in a new way about about what is going on in our lives. It is always better to understand a thing rather than fear it. Our emotional states cause less stress when we begin to understand them.