Fatigue and anxiety are common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, doctors say

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 5:08 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) causes fatigue, anxiety and sadness for many people, often in winter months.

SAD, also called Seasonal Depression, is a form of depression that occurs one season of the year. Many believe it’s related to decreased exposure to sunlight.

“In general, it falls under those same group of disorders as Bipolar and Major Depressive Disorder. When people think of that, they think it means you’re going to have this wide horrible mood swings. Sometimes it’s just the seasonal blues,” said Dr. Jennifer Derby, Sentara Family Physician.

Derby said SAD manifests in a number of ways: fatigue, inability to care for yourself, inability to do your job, anxiety and mood swings.

“I can’t get out of bed. I don’t really feel like taking a shower or taking care of myself today. That’s a big warning sign for Major Depressive Disorder or Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Derby said.

She said SAD may be mild, but it can also be severe. Sometimes symptoms are so strong they’re confused with symptoms of a physical ailment.

“It’s not necessarily an autoimmune disorder or something that’s wrong with you. You don’t have to panic that you have cancer. A lot of time, it’s just ‘I’m sad,’” Derby said. “I’ve just experienced something and my body needs some time to adjust. It’s resting to try to give itself some time to heal.”

SAD doesn’t only come around in winter months; for some, it arises after a major life change. Derby said sometimes happy events, like getting married, can cause seasonal depression.

“Anything that affects mood can also affect SAD. If you’re suddenly finding yourself a long way from home, if you’ve been shut down in your house because of COVID, if maybe your son moved out to his college, all those things are changes, and sometimes it takes a minute for the heart to catch up,” said Derby.

Depending on the severity of the depression, there are steps you can take to feel better.

“You can try little things like going out and getting a walk, making sure you’re getting a good diet,” Derby said.

She said outdoor exercise is a great idea.

“You get the sun exposure because that’s one of the therapies that you’ll get if you see somebody and you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, they may use UV light therapy on you,” Derby said.

Derby said people also underestimate the power of fun, and doing something you enjoy may be really helpful.

Most importantly, Derby said you have to remember you’re not alone.

“It’s really easy right now to feel like you’re the only one, to feel like you’re alone, but just remember that you are not.”

For more help with Seasonal Depression, visit SAMHSA’s website.

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