What does fall mean to you? For some of us, it means jumping into piles of beautiful multicolored leaves. Gathering with our families to count our blessings and share a tasty feast. Enjoying a good book by the fire.
For some, shorter days and gloomy weather mean depression. One of the main causes of autumnal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is simply having less sunlight.
Jaap J. A. Denissen of Humboldt University in Berlin led a study a few years ago that checked connections between weather and mood. It turned out that wind and rain had little effect, but the amount of exposure to sunlight made a big difference. May showers didn’t correlate with mood changes. When autumn came and the length of the day grew shorter, though, it was another story. People were more likely to feel tired, uninterested in daily activities, and sad. They were more likely to crave carbohydrates and to gain weight, and also tended to sleep more. And these effects were seen more in countries further North, where the daylight was shorter than in countries further South.
Denissen concluded that Vitamin D might be the key. Sunlight exposure increases Vitamin D, which is known to increase the body’s production of serotonin. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical associated with happiness. With less serotonin, people feel less energetic, less happy, and in some cases depressed and anxious.
You might think of it as something like getting ready to hibernate, as many other mammals do. But instead of being able to eat lots of food and then snuggle up to nap till the days get longer, humans end up having to hang out with other people. People who are getting excited about the holidays, smiling at the flaming colors of the leaves, and singing songs about going over the river and through the woods.
It’s a time of year when there is a lot of pressure to be happy, which can make seasonal sadness seem that much worse.
If you suffer from SAD, know that there are treatments available, and you don’t have to go it alone. Talk to your primary care physician about your symptoms and they may refer you to our mental health clinic.