We’ve rounded the corner– the shortest day of the year is behind us. Slowly but surely, more and more light will now begin to roll in to our days and nights.
For some, this is predictable good news. Longer hours of light and sunshine mean more hours to be outside and a boost in energy overall. The course has changed to downhill, and perhaps your wheels are turning a bit more easily now. The darkest, longest days are over and the hardest part may feel like it is behind you.
Still for many others, New England winters can feel painfully long, and the road ahead until spring emerges can feel arduous, exhausting, daunting, and dreary. We crawl our way to Groundhog Day, desperate for that furry creature to arbitrarily signal spring is near. Energy may feel low. It may feel difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Your mood may feel irritable, sad, sometimes depressed and hopeless. Your body may feel heavy and sluggish, and may be craving carbohydrates and over or under sleeping.
In some cases, these symptoms are indicators of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that is said to affect as many as 10 million people in the United States. SAD often impacts people cyclically each year, beginning late fall or early winter (sometimes, but less often, at other points of seasonal change). It is generally characterized by lethargy, irritability, fatigue, and changes in appetite and sleep. While there is no one clear cause of SAD, it is likely to develop from a combination of factors including darkness-induced decreases in serotonin and melatonin (two chemicals in the brain that highly impact mood and sleep).
The good news is that symptoms do typically resolve themselves as the seasons continue to change. However, waiting out and enduring several months of these feelings can be incredibly difficult. Various approaches to treating SAD, including light/phototherapy, psychotherapy and medications, have developed to support people struggling with this condition.
If you, or someone you care about, is experiencing some of these symptoms, it is important to speak with someone who can carefully and thoughtfully evaluate what’s going on, and determine an appropriate course of treatment.