Article by Dr. Anup Kanodia, MD, MPH
Functional Medicine Physician and Founder of KanodiaMD

The days are getting shorter, and the temperature is getting colder. You may be starting to feel inexplicably sluggish, fatigued, or unmotivated. Do you find yourself having a hard time waking up in the morning or reaching for starchy and sweet snacks throughout the day? Are you yearning for a sunshine-filled trip to the beach? If you answered yes to these questions, you are not alone. Millions of people experience what’s known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as winter ramps up.

SAD is defined as depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by a lack of light.

Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

What causes the winter blues?

Researchers can’t quite pinpoint one single cause of seasonal depression, but there are a handful of strong correlations that we find in people suffering from SAD:

Who is at risk for seasonal affective disorder?

It’s estimated that around 20% of people in the U.S. experience SAD ranging from mild cases to extreme depression that affects all aspects of their lives. Those with existing psychiatric disorders may be affected more greatly. This includes those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety or panic disorders.

Because the decrease in daylight greatly affects the circadian rhythm in the body, those who live further north of the equator (like in New England) or in cloudy regions tend to feel the effects of SAD more often.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic making seasonal depression worse?

We are already inside more during wintertime because of the cold and shortened days. Now, because of the pandemic, all the things we would typically do to get out—like seeing a movie, gathering with family, or walking around the mall—may not be possible because of social distancing and not feeling comfortable in public settings. People are further removed from their friends and family networks, compounding the feeling of sadness and isolation.

What can I do to help treat my seasonal affective disorder?

SAD creates some very distressing symptoms that can interfere with everyday life, but with a functional medicine approach, it can be treated by supporting the right systems.

If you’re struggling with depression, get help. Whether it’s consulting a functional medicine physician or talking to a therapist, there are many ways available to help you start feeling better. If you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

For questions about or treatment for seasonal affective disorder or other health needs, please contact our office or call us at (614) 524-4527. 

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