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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Facts, Supplements, And How To Feel Better

It’s no secret that mental health is a problem for us in the U.S. According to the CDC, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. 

More serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression are not quite as common but still impact about 1 in 25 Americans. But what about a mild case of the winter blues? Many of us get a lot less chipper once the days get shorter, colder, and darker. Is that a regular seasonal occurrence, or are the winter blues the beginning of a more serious mental health issue? 

It is important to note that the winter blues and full-blown seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, are two very different things. The winter blues are usually just a short-term feeling of malaise and exhaustion as your body works to adapt to the changes in sunlight during the winter months. On the other hand, SAD is a type of clinical depression that occurs with the changing seasons. 

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As the days get darker, especially following the abrupt one-hour change that happens when daylight savings time ends this Sunday, our circadian rhythm usually gets thrown out of whack. Most hormones that regulate our sleep-wake cycle fluctuate based on our exposure to sunlight. 

When the sun rises, our cortisol levels rise, and our melatonin levels drop to help us feel awake and alert. As the sun sets, the opposite happens to help us down-regulate and get ready for bed. This is a finely tuned system that was designed through years of evolution to keep us functioning in tip-top shape regardless of the time of year. 

When the time ‘falls back’ by an hour this Sunday, that system needs to catch up. So for days and sometimes weeks, you can expect to feel groggier in the mornings, leading to a mild case of winter blues

Now combine that with a ton of screen time in the PM hours, poor nutrition, and less exercise over the holiday season, and that would explain why the winter blues last longer than just a few weeks for some people. How are your hormones supposed to play catch up and optimize how you feel if all you are eating is Halloween candy and apple pie? 

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SAD is an entirely different beast altogether, though. Like with most types of clinical depression, symptoms of seasonal affective disorders can include fatigue, moodiness, loss of interest, difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping, weight gain, feelings of hopelessness or despair, and thoughts of suicide.

This isn’t just a case of sleep hormones getting a little thrown out of whack by the end of daylight savings time. This is real depression triggered by the changes in season. According to a new analysis, SAD is expected to peak during this year’s first week of November. Experts hope that by sharing this information, people that have experienced SAD in the past can have some advanced notice on when to expect symptoms to arise and seek out preventive treatment accordingly. 

The key takeaway? Winter blues are real, and so is seasonal affective disorder. The lack of sunlight will impact your hormones, mood, and overall health. By being aware of those expected changes, you can ensure you are doing your best to keep the winter blues and SAD at bay. 

Vitamin D supplementation in the winter is a must if you live in an area with really short days. Light therapy, especially in the mornings, can also be beneficial. And finally, proper diet, exercise, hydration, and sleep are always important and will help your body adapt to the changes in sunlight without you skipping a beat this holiday season!

Mental health means the world to us. We’ve partnered with Better Help to bring talk therapy and virtual mental health support further into the mainstream. If you sign up for their therapy services through any of our links, 247Health may earn a commission.

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