With the sun going down earlier, seasonal depression can sneak in, sucking your energy and making you feel unhappy. This year, Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is appropriately referred to as SAD, is colliding with the stressors of the pandemic, causing mental health professionals to worry about compounding effects.
“SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. It’s caused by a neurochemical imbalance prompted by lessened exposure to sunlight,” explained mental health experts Wendy Salazar and Aaron Evans at Integral Care, the local Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Authority for Travis County.
“SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year, typically appearing late fall or early winter. It tends to go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer,” said Salazar and Evans.
Be aware of symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, which include oversleeping, appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain, tiredness and low energy.
According to Salazar and Evans, the occurrence of SAD is tied to changes in your biological clock and serotonin levels and melatonin levels, all brought on by less sunlight and all affecting how you feel and your sleep patterns.
Who’s at Risk?
SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults.
Individuals at high risk for vitamin D deficiency include those living far from the equator, the obese, those with liver, celiac or renal disease, the elderly, and those with darker skin, said Salazar and Evans.
“Just 10 minutes of sun on your face and hands can trigger your body to manufacture Vitamin D. Salmon, tuna, egg yolks, cow’s milk, orange juice and fortified cereals are good sources of Vitamin D. Also, leafy greens and nuts may help.
Other activities that can help are walking or watching uplifting movies, listening to self-guided meditations on loving kindness and self-compassion and meditation.
“We are concerned about the isolation of individuals with depression, that being more alone can lead to worse depression,” said Margie Wright, executive director at the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas.
Wright said the center receives more calls around the holidays.
“It is hard to predict what might happen. Most of the calls we are having are from people expressing fear of the unknown,” Wright said.
Both Salazar and Evans said isolation from loved ones and friends can definitely increase symptoms of stress and depression. “This is why it’s very important to engage in self-care and self-check-ins to monitor your mental wellness, stay connected, and get help when needed,” they added.
Wright said just being aware of your loved ones’ moods and habits can make a difference. “Take time in your busy schedule to check on those who are vulnerable,” she said.
If you are wondering how to notice if someone is in need of help, or what to say on your next family Zoom meeting, Wright suggests to clue into things that people talk about, even what they say they are eating, how they are sleeping, what kinds of outlets they have. This can provide insight into a family member or friend’s mental health.