Just over a month ago, we set our clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. This combined with fewer daylight hours means that most of us are leaving work in the dark. This is just one of the many groan-inducing moments which wintertime brings. Others include frigid mornings making it harder to get out of a warm bed, commuting through snow/ice and gloomy grey days all the while navigating sick colleagues in the lab.
It is no wonder that many of us find that our energy levels and happy outlook dissipate with the change in seasons. For some of us, the winter blues can be easily shaken off; however, others are afflicted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons and differences in daylight hours. Not accounting for personal variability, SAD usually begins in October/November and ends in March/April.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, SAD is not considered a separate disorder; it is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. For individuals to be diagnosed, they must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.
On top of some of the common symptoms of depression such as feeling hopeless, sluggish, and experiencing difficulty concentrating, other symptoms of winter pattern SAD include:
- Low energy
- Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
- Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
There are attributes that make you more likely to suffer from SAD. Living far from the equator is an obvious one; for example, only one percent of those who live in Florida experience SAD whereas about nine percent in New England and Alaska suffers from SAD. If you have a family predisposition or prior diagnoses of depression or bipolar, you are more likely to experience SAD as well. Another risk factor is being female as SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men.
If you are concerned that you might be suffering from SAD, please seek help from a physician or counselor right away. There is no need to suffer these winter months away and four major types of treatment have been proved effective. These include: medication, psychotherapy, light therapy, and vitamin D which can be used alone or in combination with one another.
Don’t be hesitant to ask for workplace adjustments which could help as well. Some of these small tweaks could include sitting by a window in the lab/office or even installing a light box which is designed to simulate sunshine and help increase one’s production of serotonin. You may also ask to adjust your work hours, so that you are able to leave the lab before it gets dark at night.