In the Northeast, the weather can change on a dime. Those of us who have lived here for a while have heard the old saying that “if you don’t like the weather, wait half an hour.” There have been some days this winter where you wake up to a beautiful blanket of snow and figure you’re going to ease yourself into a cup of coffee, only to peer outside moments later and notice that the snow has given way to rain – and by noon, it’s sunny out and you still haven’t shoveled yet. Moving snow that has taken on the consistency of wet cement will make even the hardiest New Englander consider a move to a warmer climate.
The severe swings in weather can be accompanied by mood swings, particularly if the weather stays gray for a long period of time. This can be characterized as seasonal affective disorder, appropriately abbreviated as SAD. Is it depression per se? It is not specifically listed in the ICD-10, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems published by the World Health Organization. There, however, is a listing for Depression-Seasonal, and then it becomes more specific to include “disorder, depressive, recurrent.”
Other symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness and a lack of interest in social activities, irritability, lethargy, unhappiness, and weight gain. Many of these may be related: after all, if it is cold and gray outside, it is more difficult to get motivated to take a walk or hop on the bike. (Exercise can play a role in improving mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood.) Decreased activity can also lead to increased weight gain, as we all know!
SAD can be considered as depression if the medical professional diagnoses it with concomitant depression, and also if it annually falls upon the patient when the days get short and the nights long, and lifts when spring hits. If you suffer from SAD, there are options for you that may help.
Counseling and therapy can improve outcomes for those with SAD by helping sufferers realize what they are dealing with and ways they can cope with it, including diet, exercise, and optimizing their sleep patterns.
Interestingly, light therapy can also play a role for those suffering from SAD. Light boxes are readily available to artificially bring the light back to those gray winter days, but before you splurge on one, be sure to consult with a medical professional to ensure that this is an appropriate approach for you.
Finally, antidepressants can also alleviate SAD. If your condition is particularly acute, your healthcare provider may recommend prophylactically using these medications in order to deal with the issue before it begins.
Our professionals at Center for Life Management stand ready to assist if you are in need of this therapy. Please call us at (603) 434-1577 if dealing with SAD feels like it’s too much and you simply need someone with whom you can speak.