Wellfie Wednesday Tip #86: Winter Has Come (And It Brought Some SAD News)

Welcome back! Happy Wellfie Wednesday! This week is brought to you by Diana (@DianaKlatt). 

Winter came barging in and brought one of its most unpleasant friend’s along: Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
     SAD is a subset of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and is triggered based on seasonal changes, most frequently during the onset of winter. The most common symptoms are lethargy, oversleeping, depression, extreme changes in eating habits (loss of appetite or overeating), loss of interests, thoughts of helplessness, and suicide

     Now, the first symptom, lethargy, is quite common and expected during the winter season and is not necessarily a strong sign of having this issue. However, in the United States of America along, roughly 20% of people have some level of SAD, so lethargy shouldn’t be ignored. But when should you really get concerned? When lethargy is combined with depression and you are eating less and feel like you aren’t really doing much/feeling helpless and useless. These are all symptoms associated with depression, which should be appropriately addressed. If you are feeling like this please seek professional help! There is no shame in getting professional help!

↓ Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get into the why and how of this happening ↓

     As I previously discussed, during winter there is less sunlight hitting the earth and temperatures drop. Shorter days have shorter photoperiods, or rather, less hours of daylight. A decrease in sunlight is linked with changing the levels of serotonin and melatonin in your body. These are the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, energy, sleep, and most importantly your circadian rhythm. Serotonin is responsible for regulating your mood and decreases exposure to sunlight results in decreased serotonin production, which ultimately leads to decreased moods (i.e. depression). Low levels of serotonin has the highest correlation with SAD presentation. Melatonin is known for being the neurotransmitter related to sleep but that’s not all it does, melatonin is also responsible for regulating your circadian rhythm (which is linked to your ability to sleep… so thinking of sleeping isn’t wrong, per se). Decreased sun exposure causes an increase in melatonin because this neurotransmitter is produced primarily when it is dark (hence all studies tell you to not look at light, such as technological devices, before going to sleep). Increased levels of melatonin during the daytime leads to making you feel sleepy but also totally throws off your internal clock (circadian rhythm) causing you to feel “off” with the actual time it is – this leads to an overall feeling of not feeling like you’re functioning and the right pace, the right time, with the right energy. All of these miscommunications in your body can lead to feelings of helplessness and loss of interest because you’re just tired but also confused as to why your body feels tired when you haven’t done much (this is why!! more sunlight!!).

     The majority of studies have shown that increasing your exposure to sunlight helps with treating SAD. You don’t have to stare into the light but you can get one of those little UV desk lamps and just leave it on while you do your make up in the morning (hello picture perfect), while reading a book, prepping your meals, watching a tv show, scrolling through instagram, reading my website, creeping on your ex on facebook, or whatever it is you do to pass the time! Try to get outside and soak up some of the natural sunlight, even though it may be blocked by clouds its there, Mr. Sun is there to beam his rays down on you! Also, try hard to keep up your physical activity routines during the winter, I know it’s hard to get outside with nippy weather but you will be glad you did (no one ever regrets a workout). But most of all, talk to someone about it! Talk to your friends, your family, find a therapist – it’s important to take care of yourself!

     Thanks again for all of the #WellfieWednesday support, be sure to post your pictures this week and tag the WW crew members in your post (@TheFuelPhysio@Eric_in_AmERICa@AaronPerezPT@DianaKlatt@kuhnalyssa_spt) and keep the wave of healthy change going!

- WW Crew


Psychiatry (Edgmont). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview and Update. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004726/)

Innovations Clinic Neuroscience. Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/)

The Mayo Clinic. Seasonal Affective Disorder. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651)

Pscyhology Today. Seasonal Affective Disorder. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder)

Mental Health America. Seasonal Depressions. (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad)

Healthline. What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? (https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight)

The Guardian. How do I… Deal With Seasonal Affective Disorder? (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/23/how-do-i-deal-with-seasonal-affective-disorder)