Seasonal Affective Disorder brings winter time S.A.D.ness

by Katherine DeMarco
As the weather gets colder and snow starts to fall, students may find that their spirits start to fall too. Feeling like this could be just the winter blues, or it could be a symptom of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
So, what exactly is SAD?
SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, mostly in the winter. Typically, this form of depression slowly builds up during autumn, intensifies during the winter months and slowly fades out as the weather gets warmer.

What causes SAD?
Lack of daylight causes a person with SAD to become depressed. Although there is no definitive explanation of why this occurs, one theory points to a hormonal imbalance within the body, reports teenhealth.com. These hormones are called melatonin, which help people sleep, and serotonin, which produces energy to make people stay awake. The body produces more melatonin when it’s dark and more serotonin when  exposed to sunlight. Because the days are shorter in the winter, and this exposure happens for shorter periods of time, this can lead to feelings of fatigue and depression.
What are other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
According to kidshealth.org,  and the National Institutes of Health, other symptoms can include irritability, fatigue, moodiness, a sense of hopelessness, low energy, involvement in fewer social activities, oversleeping or insomnia, increased cravings for simple carbohydrates, weight gain, weight loss, difficulty concentrating and difficulty getting up in the morning. As one sophomore said, “My work ethic isn’t what it usually is during the winter months. I see more and more of my friends getting stressed over grades and homework. Plus, it’s really cold outside.”
How do I know if I have it?
There is no exact test for SAD, and it can only be diagnosed by a doctor.   “I would recommend [a student with these symptoms] seek medical advice, outside of the school, said Christopher Loggia, school psychologist. “It is hard to diagnose, because it has to happen over time. There have to be at least two consecutive years of seasonal symptoms.”
What’s the difference between types of depression like this one and normal teen angst?
“Sometimes a student will come in for one day and get really overwhelmed by the work, and then not come in for another two weeks,” said counselor Candace Kilmer. “For normal teens, they might just be having a bad day, just like this one girl who came in the other day and vented for a half hour. She came to me again the next day and she was fine. I think a main difference is if the anxiety is temporary.”
So, what can I do to get better?
First, and most important, see a medical professional if you are experiencing many of the symptoms or if any of the symptoms are affecting your ability to maintain a normal routine. Carefully follow the doctor’s treatment plan, which may include prescriptions for light therapy or cognitive behavior therapy. Whether you have SAD or the winter blues, there are ways to improve the situation.
Maintain a balanced diet: “If you crave carbohydrates like pasta, sugars, and bread, if you are eating these all the time, it is not healthy, not that they are bad when included into a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables,” said Loggia.
Increase activity: “It’s great if a student can find an activity that they really enjoy like yoga, walking, or some sort of physical activity, like volleyball. Pick something,” said Kilmer.
Socialize: Getting out with friends can be a mood booster. “The tendency to avoid socialization only makes it worse. Self-motivation can be hard but it can be easier when a friend is there,” said Loggia.
Communicate: Find someone whom you can trust and with whom you can share your feelings. “It’s important to communicate thoughts. Don’t just curl up into a ball, though that may be the easiest thing to do. You need to get help because sometimes feelings can be too overwhelming, especially when related to serious issues,” said Loggia.
Get some sun: The more time you spend outside, the better you can feel. Even taking short daily walks in the sunlight can greatly enhance your mood.
While there is no absolute cure for S.A.D., it can get better. “It’s all related to keeping in tune with your body, maintaing a constant sleeping pattern, exercising, and sunlight exposure. But for some, medication may be necesssary.” said Loggia.
 
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