Got a case of the winter blues? Maybe a mild case of cabin fever? The long cold winter months can suck the fun out of just about anyone, but for some it runs much deeper. Every year about 25-30% of the general population suffers from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), with about 10-20% of those feeling only mild symptoms. Although SAD is a form of depression that can occur during any season, winter is by far the most common. People who experience SAD often begin feeling symptoms as early as September, with the spell unbroken until Spring begins to make an appearance sometime around the end of March or beginning of April.
So, just what exactly causes SAD? Experts are not for certain about the exact cause of SAD, but the main suspect is the lack of sunlight. The human body's exposure to sunlight affects many things within, such as the production of Vitamin D. The lack of Vitamin D can contribute to the feelings of low energy and fatigue commonly associated with the disorder. The natural circadian rhythm, and internal rhythm that runs our biological clock, is directly influenced by sunlight. Lack of sunlight can throw off this rhythm and cause disruption of our sleep cycle, which also accounts for the lack of energy and sleepiness.
There are some ways of coping if you are one of the unfortunate sufferers of SAD. The popular method is using light therapy. This form of therapy tends to produce great results for most people, but once started usually needs to be continued until the season changes. If stopped after a short time, the depression has a good chance of returning. There is also the medicated route which involves taking antidepressants to balance the chemicals in the brain affecting your mood, or you can try counseling. Some types of counseling can be beneficial in teaching you how to manage your symptoms.
Being a form of depression, SAD can vary from being a mild condition to a severely debilitating. Common symptoms of SAD are: depression, an overwhelming need for sleep, cravings for carbohydrates, eating far more than normal, and the urge to almost "hibernate". It should be noted that SAD is not seen as a condition in and of itself, but rather a subset of either major depression or bipolar disorders.