We’re in the home stretch of what some have called the worst winter in U.S. history. Trudging to dig out your car yet again, your temper may match the days: short, dark, and icy. This is the exact complaint that one Savvy Pscyhologist listener of Providence, RI emailed me about. Dan H. - we hear you!
Winter blahs are pretty common. Some folks hate the holidays. Others feel let down once the Christmas tree is out by the curb. Still others get ground down by month after month of gray skies and grayer slush. Even Wall Street isn’t immune: indeed, the price of IPOs has been found to vary with the season.
As we’ve mentioned on the Savvy Psychologist show before, most disorders are the extreme end of normal experiences. Winter blues is a problem, but a relatively minor one—you feel blah, you eat more Girl Scout cookies in the recliner than usual, but you manage to function.
By contrast, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is more serious. More often than not, a SAD sufferer feels like a hibernating bear who’s been disturbed: grouchy, lethargic, and exhausted. You also may feel sad, guilty, hopeless, pessimistic, unmotivated, and self-critical. Symptoms that are different from a non-seasonal depression include craving for carbs, resulting in weight gain, and sleeping too much. Also, unlike typical depression, which is equal-opportunity when it comes to the season, SAD lifts like a hemline once warmer weather hits.
SAD affects about 1-5% of Americans in the lower 48, with numbers increasing as we move to northern latitudes, shorter days, and longer winters. In Alaska, numbers can top 10%. Women in their childbearing years are most affected, with a 4:1 ratio of women to men.