SHERIDAN — Even with the spring sun starting to show its face, some still live under the dark cloud of seasonal affective disorder.
“Mild to moderate seasonal affective disorder is pretty common around here,” said Deann Noecker, who owns her own counseling practice.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to changes in seasons, according to the Mayo Clinic. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. Drops in serotonin — a neurotransmitter brain chemical affecting mood — and melatonin — a chemical impacting sleep patterns and mood — also contribute to SAD.
Because of Sheridan’s distance from the equator, days in the winter are much shorter than more southern states.
Even those people anticipating the changes and shorter days may not recognize the pattern of depression coming with the fall and winter seasons. Melancholy feelings — the winter blues — may cause people to overlook symptoms of SAD.
“Usually if you have seasonal affective disorder, you’ve had it before,” counselor Juli Fisgus of Willow Creek Counseling Associates said. “It’s seasonal. You’re going to expect it every year.”
Fisgus said if people begin feeling sudden depression or a mood change, they should first seek medical help, as inconsistent signs might be a result of thyroid issues rather than SAD or major depression.
The Mayo Clinic lists oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain and tiredness or consistently low energy as symptoms associated with SAD. For those already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, winter can be a time of depression.
“If you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor,” The Clinic’s website suggests seeing your doctor if you feel down for days at a time or cannot get motivated for normal daily activities.
Both Noecker and Fisgus said jumping ahead of the season and formulating a plan is the best way to alleviate symptoms of SAD.
“With things that are depressive, getting on top of it, understanding it and getting the tools to be in charge of it instead of just becoming a victim of it is the most important thing,” Noecker said.
Fisgus said it starts with transparency with the person’s primary care physician.
“The important thing is making sure that your doctor knows what’s going on with you,” Fisgus said. “I think sometimes people keep those things separate. They just go to the doctor for their body and they really don’t talk about what’s going on with them emotionally.”
Therapists can help patients establish a plan to alleviate the bulk of symptoms or side effects of SAD. Those may include signing up for activities, physical exercise, eating healthy and getting outside and in the sunlight whenever possible.
“Sometimes people wait until it’s really, really miserable before they reach out or before they try anything, and that’s really hard,” Fisgus said.
If depressive feelings move beyond the occasional case of winter blues, reach out to a doctor or therapist, go for a walk outdoors, get involved in an activity and increase levels of Vitamin D intake. Proactivity is key.