I was recently going to get a manicure and I automatically thought to myself, “fall is approaching I have to get a dark color”. For the first time, I thought about why my mind went to dark colors for cold weather and why I had light colors all summer. This corresponds to my clothing as well. I have a black winter coat, black boots, black leggings, grey sweatshirts, but in the summer, I wear all sorts of bright colored clothes. It could have a lot to do with thermodynamics, but in my opinion, it’s because I wear what reflects my mood.
I hate winter. If I were to list the most terrible things in the world, winter weather would definitely be up there. I never question my decision to attend Penn State until October rolls around and I spend the next few months in frozen agony. Walking to class becomes a chore and so does pretty much everything else. Skiing is fun, but not nearly as fun as the sunshine! This topic reminded me of the pop quiz we had in class that related depression to TV light.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is in fact very real. But contrary to my hypothesis, it is believed to relate to daylight, not the temperature. Jessica Blaszczak, author of an article for the Psych Central said that half a million Americans are affected by the changing seasons and the darker outside light. Most people experience it during the fall into early winter and it usually goes away during spring and summer. But for others, it could be the other way around. The Mayo Clinic says it can lead to:
- Problems getting along with others
- Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain
SAD is caused by several things. One of them being the change in your circadian rhythm. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter could possibly disrupt your internal clock, causing problems for you and your body. Another reason is that your serotonin levels can drop. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects your mood so when the sun starts setting earlier, you can become depressed due to lack of serotonin. Another chemical can also be affected: melatonin. This chemical helps make your sleep patterns and mood so it makes sense that if this drops, so does the way you feel. If you find yourself feeling down when fall and winter arrive, check out this article about ways to cope with SAD.
There are a few treatments that can help improve your mood and motivation levels if you experience SAD, light therapy being one of them. This therapy mimics outdoor light and in return, can change levels of brain chemicals linked to your mood. Between 50% and 80% of light therapy users become symptom free (source)! If light therapy does not work, and SAD really starts to affect your daily life, further action can be taken after speaking to your doctor. You can be prescribed antidepressants that increase the serotonin in your blood, which in return, makes you happier! For those not wanting to take these steps, there are a few ways proven to help at home. You can make your home environment sunnier and brighter. Something as simple as opening the blinds can help affect your mood! It is also important to spend time outside. Even on cold and cloudy days, outdoor light can help how you are feeling. Exercise is another way because it is proven to relieve stress and anxiety which can increase SAD symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no known prevention to be taken to avoid SAD. It is recommended that you get ahead of it, meaning; if you know you experience some of the symptoms of SAD, start treatment early. As for me, I am already counting down the days until Spring Break in Florida!