The warning signs of Seasonal Affective Depression and what you can do

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(ABC 6 News) – They call it “winter blues” when you feel more sluggish or moody during the winter months, but that can actually be a sign of something more serious going on, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

You might notice yourself sleeping more, being less social, or having low energy. Doctors at Mayo Clinic said it’s normal to feel sluggish in winter. When it comes to the point of impacting our day-to-day functions, that’s when it starts to become SAD.

“For some people, they may experience this in early fall, that kind of like mid-late September where the weather is still fairly pleasant and for other people, this might not hit until like mid-January,” said Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a psychologist at Mayo Clinic.

SAD happens because of a chemical change in the brain. When your body naturally makes more melatonin because it’s dark. A sleep-related hormone.

“Some folks might be more vulnerable to that. In return, with more exposure to light, that helps to regulate the system more.”

Most are probably familiar with Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it can also happen in Summer. Those symptoms include trouble sleeping, weight loss, and increased irritability. But how do you know these feelings are seasonal, rather than a sign of long-term depression?

“When it’s more the seasonal pattern, usually what we want to see is this happening for a person over a course of two years so that starts to establish more of a pattern. And then what you do actually find are individual differences of when these symptoms come on or the onset of those symptoms.”

When those symptoms do hit, it’s recommended you stay social, get regular exercise, and use light therapy. A light box mimicking outdoor light to help boost your mood. It can especially be helpful for those who work overnight shifts.

“They may experience more variability in their sleep patterns but if there’s an opportunity to regulate those, that would be great. However, when you do wake up in the morning, having to go with the artificial light is the way to go. And having a good, established wakeup routine.”

It’s normal to have days when you feel down. If you can’t get motivated to do things you normally enjoy, that’s when you should see a doctor.