As Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “…everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” But some people not only complain about the weather, they’re negatively affected by it as well. No, we’re not talking about Grandma’s thunderstorm-predicting bunions here; we referring to a very real psychological disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
SAD, or Seasonal Depression as it is also known, happens to some people the same time every year; oddly enough, sometimes in the summer, but most often it begins in the late fall and slowly disappears as spring nears.
While most people find it difficult to get going and be energetic on cold, gray, wet, gloomy days, people suffering from Seasonal Depression are impacted much more, more continuously, and with a broader range of effects. Symptoms of SAD include difficulty waking up in the morning, morning sickness, and a tendency to oversleep and overeat (especially a craving for carbohydrates, which leads to weight gain). Other symptoms include a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks, and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities and decreased sex drive….in other words, many of the classic signs of Depression.
We know much more about the winter variety of SAD than we do about its summer counterpart, and some experts think the condition is related to the reduced amount of sunlight that reaches the northern hemisphere in the winter, although not everyone agrees.
The theory behind the “the farther north you live” explanation for SAD rests on the fact that hormones our bodies produce are known to trigger psychological responses. The production one of these hormones, Serotonin, may be affected by the reduced sunlight that Northern regions get in the winter. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a soothing, calming effect. The result of there not being enough serotonin is feelings of depression along with symptoms of fatigue, carbohydrate craving, and -because foods high in carbohydrates (chips, pretzels, cookies) boost serotonin, it is thought that they have a calming, soothing affect on the body and mind –thus, weight gain.
Strangely enough, the effects of summer SAD are virtually the opposite: instead of a desire to sleep, pelple experience difficulty sleeping; instead of craving carbs and other weight inducing foods, they lose their appetites and lose weight, but experience a notable increase in their sex drive.
SAD seems to come on duriing the teen years and, as with other forms of Depression, seems to impact more women than men.
While the jury is still out on how to treat the summer variant of SAD, the winter version seems ot respond, not surprisingly, to light therapy, usually in the form of “light boxes” that people can buy, and which mimic natural outdoor conditions in the spectrum of light it gives off. Light box therapy may be effective on its own. However, it may be most effective when it’s combined with other treatments such as an antidepressant medication or psychological counseling; this is a determination to be made in concert with a mental health professional.
If you find that you are unusually impacted by the seasons, particularly if winter for you seem to be one long depressing slough, we urge you to call Capital EAP and speak to one of our trained counselors.
While Twain is often credited with having coined this phrase, many dictionaries alternately ascribe it to his good friend, Charles Dudley Warner, who wrote in the August 27, 1897 edition of the Hartford Courant, “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.” Many people at the time believed Warner was writing of Twain, and so he got the credit.