Posted by: jedwardswright | January 11, 2012

I’m SAD in the Winter: Seasonal Affective Disorder

My energy level bottoms out about this time every year.

I live in the northern Northern Hemisphere, which means that in January, the amount of sunlight that we receive is at almost the lowest level of the year.

It has been unseasonably warm with almost no snow in our neck of the woods, so the most common topic of polite conversation is how we can’t complain about the weather. People aren’t dancing in the streets exactly, but on the whole everyone is thrilled with the current climatic development. Honestly even the sunshine has shown up more often than usual in the past month, so theoretically my battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder should be almost non-existent.

I wish life worked that way.

Instead, between recovering from the busy (but very enjoyable) holiday season and fighting the fatigue of SAD, I have been an almost full-time full-length resident of our living room couch for the past two weeks.

Am I depressed? “Yes” and “No.”

“Yes,” I find being chronically exhausted depressing, but “No” the depression isn’t too severe– thanks to my trusty medications. Let me goof up and miss taking my meds though, and I begin to wish that I had never been born. All you depressives out there know just what I mean.

I should add here that I have also been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia which when stirred into the mix doesn’t help either.

If you find your depression usually deepens at a particular time of year, particularly if that season is winter and you live in an area of the world that gets less sunshine, it is possible that you also have SAD. (Presumably for Aussies and New Zealanders the vulnerable time of year would be in June, July and August.)

What can we do about it? Sitting under a “natural” light source is supposed to help. While there are expensive lights that you can buy that are sold specifically for SAD, try first buying full-spectrum light bulbs from your local hardware or big box store. They are a much cheaper alternative to other light box therapies, and if they work for you, hurray! You just saved yourself a whole whack of money.

Try regulating your sleeping and waking hours to be more consistent, and sit under the light early in the morning to mimic the effect of the sun rising. If your sleep patterns continue to be erratic (awake at night and sleepy during the day), it may be a reasonable accommodation to use sleep medication occasionally to prevent becoming too exhausted and try to “reset your inner clock” to a more suitable sleeping schedule.

If you are on medication for depression, you may wish to consult with your doctor about a seasonal adjustment in dosage. If you aren’t on meds and SAD is having a significantly negative effect on your ability to enjoy life, let your doctor know that too. Even if you don’t choose to pursue a medical solution, it may be something to consider when diagnosing other conditions.

The best news about SAD is that every year, Spring shows up.  I know that this lethargy and tiredness will gradually be relieved in April and May and until then I am fortunate to be at home whereI have the ability to lie down and snooze when necessary.  

For those of you without that luxury, keep in mind that SAD when severe and untreated can lead to a major depressive episode, and you want to get medical attention before things get too bad. It is easier to prevent landing in the Pit than it is to dig yourself out. Don’t leave it too long before seeking your doctor’s help if you find you are in a downward spiral.

Here is some more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder from:

MayoClinic

WebMD

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

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Responses

  1. do you have a light? I need to get one, but there are so many, I dont’ know which one I should get. Any suggestions? And this describes me and what’s happening right this very minute. Thank you, it’s great to know I’m not alone!

    • Any light that gives you full-spectrum bulbs should work. Before you invest in an expensive light, try asking for bulbs at your local big box hardware store, and use them in lights that you can sit under. It isn’t the lighting fixture that makes it effective, it’s the bulbs in the fixture.

  2. I try to take a good dose of vitamin D3 in the winter time to help. You can actually have your vitamin D levels tested at the doctor. I’ve also noticed that exercise helps. If you’re like me, it’s hard to want to run around outside when it’s cold. A cheesy workout video in the living room can be a great mood booster.

    • I have WiiFit and I used to use it faithfully. It is really a fun program! I need to get back to using it again.


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