It may be light out a little bit later now, but we're still in the last leg of winter (thanks for nothing, Punxsutawney Phil). The frozen season often comes with a series of mood changes -- but how do we know if what we're feeling is just the blues or something more serious?
Approximately 10 million people in the United States are affected by seasonal affective disorder, a depression-related condition that generally occurs in the winter months (though, not always). In most cases, symptoms usually appear in the late fall and last until around the first week of April. SAD is prevalent among individuals who live in the northern states where it gets cloudier and colder. Women are also more susceptible to SAD than men.
Everyone has bouts of the winter blahs -- who wouldn't, after being confined to the indoors for most of the week? But the key is the frequency of your mood swings. If your sour disposition is persistent, it might be time to check in with a physician.
Here are a few other signs your winter blues might actually be seasonal depression.
You're sleeping a lot more than usual.
Sure, snoozing away dreary days feels good -- but it shouldn't be a regular habit. SAD affects your melatonin levels (a yawn-inducing hormone naturally produced in the body), which could lead to changes in sleep patterns. If you find yourself oversleeping two or more hours each day compared to your normal sleep schedule, you may want to be monitored for the condition.
You've lost interest in fun activities.
SAD has a nasty way of taking what was once enjoyable and snowing all over it. The condition can decrease your sex drive, and you may feel yourself wanting to withdraw from social situations, both of which are also hallmark symptoms of depression. Even your interest in work can begin to wane. You're not "able to do your normal activities of daily living," Donnica Moore, M.D., told ABC News.
You're craving carbs.
French fries are generally pretty irresistible no matter what time of year it is, but with seasonal depression those carbohydrate cravings may increase tenfold, according to the Mayo Clinic. SAD can lead to changes in your eating habits: In the winter you may consume more, whereas with summertime SAD you may experience poor appetite and weight loss.
Your energy is low.
We're not talking your run-of-the-mill caffeine withdrawal, but the kind where you just can't shake your exhaustion. One of the key signs is feeling increasingly lethargic; your limbs may even feel physically heavy. SAD can also mess with your natural circadian rhythm, or your body's biological clock, causing changes in energy and mood.
You're constantly bickering with your loved ones.
The condition has a way of increasing your unhappiness and irritability, making that slow driver or your partner's annoying habits just that much more, well, annoying. Because of this, you may find yourself arguing more with your friends and family in a way that is seemingly unusual. This may occur especially if you have summertime SAD, as feelings of anxiety and edginess tend to be higher.
You feel fine during other seasons.
The key distinction between SAD and other forms of depression lies in the date on the calendar. If you're experiencing these symptoms just during certain times of the year, discuss coping options with your mental health professional. Some physicians may recommend light therapy, due to your body's lack of serotonin (a mood-boosting chemical in the brain) and vitamin D from the reduction in natural sunlight. Other forms of treatment could include talk therapy or medication. It's important to talk to a doctor to figure out the best treatment method, as SAD can sometimes become long-term depression.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.