TROY — With many of the perks of the winter season over — from the holidays to increased time with family and loved ones — it is time to wait out the cold, gray days until spring arrives.
For those living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), waiting for the much-needed reprieve of spring may be a little more difficult.
“It’s a type of depression that affects folks with the change of the season,” said Kim McGuirk, director of clinical services and evaluation for the Tri-County Board of Recovering Mental Health Services. McGuirk explained that SAD is most common during the winter, as people become affected by the shorter lengths of days and less light in the daytime.
“Some folks call it the winter blues,” McGuirk said. “It’s not really the weather. It has more to do with the light of the day.”
SAD is a type of mood disorder in which people have a normal mentality during the majority of the year, but then experience depressive symptoms during one part of the year, such as during winter or springtime.
“It affects more women than men. It actually affects people of all ages,” McGuirk said. “(It) usually begins late fall and goes away by early spring.”
Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression. Those symptoms can include tiredness or low energy, oversleeping, appetite changes, social withdrawal and irritability.
“Some folks, they go into a … seclusion, a withdrawal of activity,” McGuirk said.
People may also experience mood changes including anxiety, apathy, feelings of hopelessness, loneliness or sadness.
“I have family members affected by it, so they get anxious at night,” McGuirk said. “It’s more when it starts to get dark at night, some anxiety sets in.” McGuirk said that, with the shortest days of the year getting dark at around 4:30 p.m., people with SAD may not do well with that.
One way to cope with SAD is through light therapy and maximizing one’s exposure to light. McGuirk said that this can include making sure there is good lighting in the home and opening up the blinds or going outside when it is sunny.
“I know for my family members, in the evenings, they like to go to places, like local shopping (in) big box centers like Meijer or Walmart, where the lighting is brighter,” McGuirk said. “Take advantage of any sunny, warm day in the winter time if you can.”
McGuirk also suggested exercise as another method of coping.
“You see a lot of folks hitting the YMCAs and the gyms. Exercise is a good way of combating it,” McGuirk said. “The other thing is your diet — making sure that you’re eating healthier, keeping your vitamin C up.”
Eating less sugar is also a recommendation of coping with SAD. Other methods of coping include maintaining one’s routine, practicing relaxation and developing wintertime interests. Additional treatments available include talk therapy, behavioral therapy, stress management techniques and antidepressants.
McGuirk also recommended that people make sure that the symptoms they are experiencing are not another issue.
“Definitely make sure it’s not something else,” McGuirk said. “Check it out with your doctor first. Make sure it’s not your thyroid or depression.” Those living with SAD may also have a bipolar disorder.
“If you feel like you’re not able to cope with it or if it’s so overwhelming — if it’s interfering with your ability to live, laugh and love — seek help,” McGuirk said. “If it’s interfering with your daily activities, seek help.”
The Tri-County Board of Recovering Mental Health Services’ crisis hotline is 800-351-7347.