When Do Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms Start Showing Up? You May Start Feeling Them Soon
The beginning of cold weather and shorter days means a lot of shifts are coming: swapping out your outdoor runs for treadmill sessions, salads for soups, and cute summer clothes for cozy sweaters and socks. However, for some people, the start of the cooler seasons also heralds a downward swing in mood. Seasonal affective disorder, where you experience symptoms of depression in response to environmental factors, is also sometimes known as the winter blues. But despite that moniker, seasonal affective disorder symptoms may start showing up sooner than you'd think.
Researchers are still not entirely sure what SAD's relationship to seasonality is; the body's reaction to shifts in temperature and light levels seem to be the core issue, as are negative psychological responses to different seasons. SAD is most commonly associated with autumn and winter, though a phenomenon known as Reverse SAD is also recorded during the spring and summer months.
"The predominant symptoms of SAD include sadness, decreased activity, anxiety, irritability, and daytime tiredness," Dr. Marc Romano of the Delphi Behavioral Health Group tells Bustle. "Individuals with SAD also present with increased sleep, increased appetite, and decreased sexual interest."
A review of the science in 2016 found that diagnosing SAD is incredibly tricky because it often relies on people self-reporting their own moods, but that there definitely seems to be some kind of relationship between the shifting of the seasons and mood in some members of the population. It may even be in your genes, which would explain why some people are vulnerable to it and others aren't. So when in the year should you be on the lookout for lower mood and other symptoms?
Rather than popping up in the depths of winter, SAD tied to the colder months actually can being to show symptoms at the beginning of the seasonal change.
"The distinguishing feature of SAD is that this disorder regularly appears in early autumn and winter with improved mood in the spring and summer followed by depression returning in the winter months," Dr. Romano tells Bustle.
While many of us don't really notice the days beginning to shorten or the leaves going yellow, people with SAD may begin to experience their symptoms early in the fall. September is often a time of great stress in the northern hemisphere, as the school year begins, offices often begin to work hard for the end of the year, and holidays feel far off. "Studies have consistently shown that SAD occurs more frequently among women and tends to occur more often in younger people. SAD has also been found to have higher rates in northern regions and lower rates in southern areas," Dr. Romano says.
In terms of treatment, light exposure can help. "The treatments for SAD have included light therapy, anti-depressant medication, and the use of melatonin," Dr. Romano explains. However, a 2015 study found that feeling better in the winter months might be a matter of getting to therapy rather than relying on light exposure. The study noted that people who went to cognitive behavioral therapy during their seasonal depression saw more improvement than those who only used lamps.
This doesn't mean it's not a real reaction to changing light levels; people in therapy were likely given recommendations on exercise and maximizing time in the sun, too. But it does mean that if you're experiencing SAD, it's likely that you may have some worries that are making you more vulnerable to mood dips. So if you are starting to feel symptoms, invest in a good SAD lamp, get sunshine, and schedule a session to talk with somebody who listens.