With the days being shorter, less sun being seen, and a chill in the air, many people’s moods are affected. Some view December as “The most wonderful time of the year,” but for some, it can be a dark and difficult time due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This December it is important to be more aware as the month marks Seasonal Depression Awareness Month.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAD is a condition in which some people experience a significant mood change when the seasons change and is a type of depression.
It is estimated that millions of Americans experience SAD, and many go undiagnosed and unknowing.
Studies have found that people with SAD have reduced levels of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate one’s mood. Sunlight affects our levels of serotonin, and with fewer hours of sun during the day, many people don’t get to see the sun as often due to work hours.
Lower levels of serotonin can also affect sleep, leading to sleep disruptions and causing mood and behavior changes.
Symptoms can include feeling sad, anxious or “empty” feelings, hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness. Some may feel a loss of interest or pleasure in activities they used to enjoy, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating or remembering details, oversleeping/eating, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, social withdrawal, irritability and agitation.
To be diagnosed with SAD, a person must have symptoms of depression above, depressive episodes occur during certain seasons for at least two years, and depressive episodes are more frequent during certain times of the year.
SAD is more typical in women than in men and more prevalent in the winter than in the summer. SAD is also more common in people living in the north where there are shorter daylight hours. SAD is also more common in people who have depression and bipolar disorder.
SAD is treatable with light therapy, antidepressant medication and vitamin D. For more information on SAD, speak with your local health care provider.
During the holiday season, many gather among families and friends, and for those who have lost someone it can be a reminder of that pain and grief.
The season can be particularly difficult for those who are facing the holidays for the first time after losing a loved one.
A survey by Psychology Today showed 35% of the 2,000 people in the study don’t look forward to the holiday season due to the loss of a loved one.
According to Psychology Today, “grief is not a passive process,” and the holidays can remind people of traditions and tasks they used to do with a lost loved one.
Some tips from Vitas Healthcare include setting expectations, surrounding oneself with support, avoiding canceling plans, allowing oneself to grieve, and drawing comfort from others.
Setting expectations is important because it allows one to know it is okay if your holiday season looks different than others. It is also important to decide if you can handle the season through all it’s usual celebrations and let friends and families know how you will be handling the season.
If you do decide to be around family and friends, their support can help you grieve and feel better about a loved-one’s passing. You can also share stories and traditions with them rather than being alone. It is also good to avoid canceling plans or outings to avoid isolation.
Though you may want to be strong, it is never wrong to grieve and take the time to allow yourself to feel all the emotions associated with loss. Some other helpful tips include journaling as well as exercising to ease your mind.
If you want to support someone going through grief or loss, it is important to be present, ask how you can help, continue to reach out after some time has passed, and don’t judge how the person handles their grief.
This holiday season, remember to check in on loved ones, mourn those who have passed and celebrate with courtesy and kindness in mind.