In well-being, Wellness

Overcoming the Winter Blues:
Turning SAD to Glad

 

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression associated with seasonal changes, most typically late fall until early spring. Although the opposite is also true–depression from early spring through late fall–it occurs far less often.

For many of us, the fall and winter season starts just fine, but eventually leaves us longing for the return of spring as the winter wears on. This type of mild “winter blues” is normal, but when feelings of gloominess deepen and stretch out longer than a week, it may be a sign of SAD or “winter depression.” Here’s what to look for if you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing it:

Symptoms of SAD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, signs and symptoms of SAD include:

  • A depressed feeling on most days—for most of the day
  • Hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sluggishness or agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms more specific to winter-onset SAD include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Excessive sleepiness and time asleep
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Increased craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal

Who’s at Risk?

SAD is typically more common in women than men, and in those who have a family history of SAD or other form of depression. It is also slightly higher in people who live further from the equator, possibly due the decrease in sunlight during the winter.

Although it plagues young adults more often than seniors, it’s not unheard of for mature adults to experience it as well—for a few reasons. According to Amanda Daggett, the Director of Nursing at Beacon Hill, some seniors are at risk for SAD due to additional influences. For them, SAD is oftentimes precipitated by a lack of mobility–especially during winter weather, loneliness, the loss of independence (not being able to just pick up and go somewhere), and even grief (over the death of a spouse or loved one).

Causes

Unfortunately, experts are still uncertain as to what causes SAD. A few possible contributing factors include changes to your:

  • Circadian Rhythm—The reduction of sunlight during the winter months may disturb our body’s internal clock, which sparks depressive symptoms.
  • Serotonin Levels—Shortened days and lack of sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate mood. 
  • Melatonin Levels—Increased darkness during the winter may cause an increase in the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin, which increases sleepiness and feelings of lethargy.

Treatment of SAD

For those who are prone to SAD each year, a proactive treatment plan is best. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with SAD, your treatment options may include one or more of the following:

  • Medication—This includes anti-depressant treatments such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and bupropion–both of which your doctor may prescribe.
  • Light TherapyStudies have shown that short exposure to light treatment improves depressive symptoms in people diagnosed with SAD.
  • Psychotherapy—Talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

The Benefits of Beacon Hill

“We rarely have a diagnosis of SAD at Beacon Hill,” Amanda Daggett, Director of Nursing, happily reported. Beacon Hill has such an abundance of natural light–especially in the common areas–that residents really don’t experience a shortage of sunlight through the winter months.

“In addition to the natural light surplus, we offer extensive options for social and physical activities, which together support the positive mental state of our residents,” Amanda commented. Beacon Hill’s own Wellness Program includes an on-site exercise room, group or individual classes, an activity room, and a therapy gym.

Perhaps the next notable reason Beacon Hill residents rarely suffer from SAD is the one that everyone loves taking advantage of … the wonderful cuisine. Our culinary team provides residents a well-balanced diet made from healthy, organic and seasonal, locally-grown produce. This regional diet naturally provides increased nutrition (not to mention flavor), which may help alleviate SAD symptoms.

A Tradition of Wellness

Beacon Hill at Eastgate understands that each of our resident’s needs are as individual as they are. Our staff works to provide customized care to everyone in a warm and welcoming environment. To learn more about our active and healthy lifestyle approach, and how it helps residents stay happy and fulfilled, please contact us via email at contactus@beaconhillgr.org.

 

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