Have you ever noticed that your mood is affected by the weather? Often our spirits are lifted on a bright, sunny day while a dull, cold day may make us feel a little gloomy.
Although these are normal reactions to the changing seasons, some people experience a much more serious or intense reaction during the transition from fall to winter. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
As with many conditions, the exact cause of SAD is still unknown.
However, recent studies have shown that age, genetics and the chemical make-up of your body play an important role in developing this condition.
Research in Ontario suggests that 2-3% of the general population has SAD.
Although it may affect some children and teenagers, SAD most commonly affects people over 20 years of age.
Interestingly, this condition is more common in women than in men.
SAD is thought to be related to the seasonal variations in the amount of daylight that we are exposed to.
The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may disrupt our body’s internal clock, which tells us when we should be sleeping or awake.
As a result, shift workers are at greater risk, as their schedules may cause them to be exposed to very little natural daylight.
The symptoms of SAD are similar to several other psychological conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder.
However, SAD is a cyclic condition which means that the signs and symptoms usually come and go at the same time each year.
In most cases, the symptoms of SAD appear during the late fall or early winter and go away during the warmer, brighter days of spring.
Generally, symptoms that recur at least two consecutive winters without any other explanation for the changes in mood and behaviours indicate the presence of SAD.
Symptoms may include: depression; anxiety; weight gain; loss of energy; oversleeping; difficulty concentrating; loss of interest in leisure or social activities; and irritability.
The majority of the time, the symptoms of SAD will disappear in the early spring or summer.
For some individuals, the symptoms will resolve rather abruptly while others experience a more gradual reduction over a period of time.
It is important to take SAD seriously, as it can lead to serious complications if left untreated.
It is advised to seek medical help if you are experiencing the above mentioned symptoms as soon as possible.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for SAD. Even people suffering from severe symptoms can obtain excellent results with treatment.
The first line of treatment consists of spending more time outside during the day and arranging your home to maximize the amount of light that enters.
Things such as trimming tree limbs and opening the curtains work very well.
In addition, physical activity is recommended as it will boost energy levels as well as relieve stress.
Many people experiencing SAD find that a vacation to a sunny location also helps to relieve symptoms.
In more severe cases of SAD, light therapy may be the treatment of choice.
This therapeutic approach consists of sitting beside a specialized light therapy box for several minutes per day.
This specialized light will mimic natural daylight thus relieving the symptoms of SAD.
Another form of treatment that is becoming more popular is counseling or psychotherapy.
The goal of these therapies is to help identify and eliminate negative thoughts as well as provide coping strategies.
Finally, if all other treatments fail, your doctor may recommend anti-depressants or other psychiatric medications.
Once identified, your doctor may suggest beginning your medications before you experience symptoms each year in order to prevent them from worsening.
As you can see, “the winter blues” can actually become a very serious problem for some people. Although there is no way to completely prevent this condition from occurring, it is possible to minimize its effects by following these simple hints.
So next time you are driving down the road on a dark, cold winter day, keep this article in mind.
Until next time, drive safely.
– Dr. Christopher Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.
Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry. All posts by Truck News