Tis the season to feel like shit, Tis the season for SAD

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seasonal affective disorder header

Tis the season for significant drops in temperature, shorter days, and feeling SAD.

By SAD, I mean Seasonal Affective Disorder.  

I’ve written about SAD and its effects in the past both in regards to the winter season and the summer time. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of clinical depression that kicks off during the late autumn and winter thought to be caused by the decrease in daylight [2].  

While I’m not clinically depressed, I feel moodier, bitchier, and less pleasant as the days go by. This signals to me the that another segment of the ‘Winter Blues’ has commenced as I detect the changes in my mood and behavior due to the cold weather and shortened daylight cycle.  

Here’s a quick rundown of SAD [2]:

seasonal affective disorder visual

Other symptoms include:

  • Feelings of Sadness and Despair
  • Irritability
  • Crying Spells
  • Body Aches
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Loss of Sex Drive

For those who appreciate a good visual aid:

seasonal affective disorder infographic

Although we know what it is, I have long pondered why. Science tells us it has to do with the amount of sunlight a person receives and the circadian clock and how these changes affect our serotonin levels.  Finally, Vanderbilt biologists have confirmed this long standing theory.

Researchers found an interesting predetermining potential factor for SAD: when you were born.

Researchers focused on the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus located in the Midbrain, it is the area that contains specialized neurons that control serotonin levels throughout the brain  [1].

dorsal raphe nucleus

They found that the day/night cycle in which an individual is born into can have a long lasting effect in the activity levels of neurons here.

The Dorsal Raphe Nucleus is linked to the master biological clock and responds to melatonin, a regulatory neurotransmitter that controls physiological functions like sleep, blood pressure, and seasonal reproduction.

In order to test this theory, researchers conducted the experiment on mice and broke them down into three groups that were born and raised in either a:

  1. Summer-Like environment with a 16 hour light cycle and an 8 hour dark cycle
  2. Spring/Fall-Like environment with a 12 hour light cycle and a 12 hour dark cycle
  3. Winter-Like environment with an 8 hour light cycle and a 16 hour dark cycle

Scientists ensured that the three groups of mice were raised in identical environments other than the light cycle.

To measure for depression, biologists used a forced swim test (no mice drowned as a result of this test since mice can float), where the mice were placed in a pool of water to measure how much time it spent struggling to get out versus how much time it spent floating passively.

It was argued that mice who were depressed would spend less time struggling. Results indicated that their argument was correct: Summer-light cycle mice exhibited lower levels of depression-like behavior compared to the Spring/Fall and Winter groups of mice.

Consistent with behavioral findings, brain analysis of the mice from the three groups showed that serotonergic neurons fire faster in the summer-light cycle mice and had elevated levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitter that excites serotonergic neurons).

These findings indicate that early life seasonal photoperiods, day/light length, can have enduring effects on the serotonergic neurons. Long photoperiods have been shown to:

  • Increase serotonin excitability and firing
  • Increase serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the Midbrain
  • And during development, has been found to induce a lasting increase in firing rates.

This research article was incredibly fascinating as I can already detect a shift in my mood and perception of life’s happenings. I’m very aware that it is due to the seasonal change and am actively trying to circumvent any serious complications that may result of it. However, this really brought home as to why I, and many others, may experience this alteration as the season changes.

 

 

SAD meme

 

I was born in January in New York City, a very heavy winter-like environment, so I didn’t experience long enough photoperiods during my early months of development. My brain didn’t get a chance to increase its serotonin firing rate therefore, not allowing me to adapt to the darker days as easily as someone born in the summer. Obviously, there are plenty of other factors that come into play but it’s nice that we have found another piece of the puzzle.

As the days become darker and colder, I will be sure to soak up as much daylight as I can, be a stickler about my sleep schedule and overall routine, and pay closer attention to my body. Of course, I will be baking a lot more these days to overcome the crappiness outside – because there is nothing a delicious piece of chocolate cake or moist vanilla cupcake can’t solve. So if you have any requests I’ll be sure to 1) bake it 2) take a picture of me eating it and 3) send it your way.  

Any requests?

Do you experience SAD?  Is everyone ready for Thanksgiving?

Sources: Header Image, 1, 2

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23 Comments
  • SMD @ Life According to Steph
    November 19, 2015 at 4:30 PM

    Getting outside at lunch for 20-30 minutes is extremely important to my well being in winter.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      November 24, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      Yes I agree, unfortunately when it’s freezing cold I refuse to go outside. That’s part of the problem. Lol. Hope you remain peachy this winter season Steph! Take Care -Iva

      Reply
  • Liz @ I Heart Vegetables
    November 20, 2015 at 8:38 AM

    Wow, that’s crazy to think that the environment you grew up in could have such an impact about how you feel during different seasons but it totally makes sense!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      November 24, 2015 at 8:57 AM

      Isn’t that insane? I never would’ve thought of that association. It makes sense though and it’s interesting to see how those around me born in the same time also experience these mood shifts. Have a great one Liz! -Iva

      Reply
  • Tia G.
    November 20, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    I was born in the summer but noticed the winters that I don’t keep a consistent morning work out schedule is when I suffered the most. I do get SAD, and have a light, just in case. My husband and doctors think I am overreacting, but I keep telling people that if I do have a child, it needs to be born in spring/summer so I don’t have the baby blues AND SAD. I couldn’t deal. And I know that about myself so I’m just going to chug along and ignore the nay-sayers. Happy Friday Iva!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      November 24, 2015 at 12:57 PM

      Lovely! Men usually have a tendency to think we overreact but I’m telling you the weather affects our mood! It’s awful. I get slight blues but have been doing good this season thus far. We’ll see how the rest of it goes. If you have the fortune of controlling when your baby is born, please do. Lol. 🙂 Hope you have a happy winter love and you are not alone! Have a great one -Iva

      Reply
  • Kari @The He Said She Said Experience
    November 20, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    I hate winter for this very reason! The cold, the dark, ugh! I’m always happy when the days starting getting longer again.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      November 24, 2015 at 1:00 PM

      LOL well sadly, depending where you live, there’s little that can be done about that. It is hard to deal with the shorter days though, one day at a time!! Have a great one Kari! -Iva

      Reply
  • catherine gacad
    November 20, 2015 at 4:35 PM

    we should all move to LA this time of year!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      November 24, 2015 at 1:17 PM

      I wish we could! It’s be FANTASTIC! 🙂 It’s sad to see our daylight limited for the next few months, now I must hibernate until its full return. 🙂 Have a great one Catherine! -Iva

      Reply
  • Tamara
    November 20, 2015 at 7:26 PM

    I’m not sure I do get SAD, but probably to some degree. When it starts getting dark at 4 freaking 30, if I mention it people say, “I HATE it. HATE.” And I realize I do too. But I don’t find myself necessarily more anxious and/or sad. But definitely loving spring and summer a LOT MORE.

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:14 PM

      This is what happens when you get slacking like I am. Late responses to good comments. Lol this is why they’ll be off for the next few weeks. I get SAD, I’m SAD now – but I’m at work. The patterns seems to be that – only at work. LoL. I love the end of summer and Fall – when things are peaceful and the temperatures starts to cool off. 🙂 It’s still nice here, so I’m enjoying it while I can. Have a great one Tam Tam! -Iva

      Reply
  • Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table
    November 21, 2015 at 12:57 AM

    When my sister moved to Portland from Atlanta she had to buy one of those sun lamps. She really was depressed! It’s a thing though – cold, rainy… you just want to cry!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:21 PM

      Oh wow! I’ve heard it’s gorgeous out there though!! Egh the rainy and cold thing doesn’t work. Lol. It’s still nice here but the last 3 days it was just that! Cold + Rainy. It was horrifying all the moods here.. we were ALL depressed and dying. Shits real! Have a great one and hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving Laura! -Iva

      Reply
  • Jen
    November 21, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    Girl you gotta make some punkin pie from real punkins. That is the stuff right there. I’m doing it this year again and I’m telling you, ain’t no sad in punkin pie.

    As for me, I am typically moody 24/7. Today is our first big snow of the season and I am happier than a clam. Yesterday it was party cloudy and I was miserable. I am big on snow, you see, and love how I feel insulated and comfy all by myself in my nice, snow-packed house. That is the life right there. So yeah, if winter were just a series of big snows and none of that freezing ice/must leave house crap, I would likely be a very happy girl during these winter months.

    Iva I hope you have the best Thanksgiving ever!! Eat lots of food and sleep and eat some more and then sleep a little more! Enjoy, girl! Thankful for you! 🙂

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:24 PM

      LMAO! “ain’t no sad in punkin pie.” I’m telling you, if you lived closer – the damage we’d do.

      I’m the EXACT same way when it comes to snow – it’s SO peaceful. I love it, especially when it falls at night. I will be the happiest then. I will leave the blinds open just to fall asleep watching the flakes fall. It was always my favorite part of Winter as a child, and remains so until this day. Until nasty people start stepping on it and it turns brown/black.

      I had a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving and hope you and yours did too! How was that punkin pie? 🙂 Take Care Love -Iva

      Reply
  • Jackie
    November 23, 2015 at 6:06 PM

    Wow this is such an interesting explanation and totally makes sense. I was born in August and though I’m not a fan of the season changes/shorter days, I don’t feel like I have official SAD. So interesting – thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      Glad you don’t really experience SAD 🙂 I’m a January baby so yeah I definitely am impacted by the weather. I’m just very sensitive to those changes. Thankfully winter is my time to hibernate so I get to recover 🙂 Have a great one and hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday Jackie! -Iva

      Reply
  • Charlotte
    November 25, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    Super interesting stuff, Iva. I totally think there is something to the shorter days (or less sunlight) that affect the way we operate. I know that I, for one, have a really hard time each year when the sun goes down around 5pm–I just feel super sluggish and unmotivated (and well, yea, bitchy, LOL). Didn’t know that re: time of year that we are born–very cool!

    Hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving, my sweet! XOXO

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:28 PM

      Yes there definitely is something to the shorter days and how the weather affects us. Haha I’m the same, during the winter times really, it gets hard to be positive and motivated. I’ve learned to get as much done in the day and nap once, limit activities of all kinds. It’s helpful but still a struggle because I can’t control all of it but lol, I make do! One day at a time love! Hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday Charlotte! Take Care Gorgeous -Iva

      Reply
  • Danielle @ tiny-trots
    November 29, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    My mom suffered from SAD. She got one of those lamps, and put it on her night stand. I guess it helped? I don’t think I get depressed, but I notice that I sometimes get negative and sad on those rainy weeks. As always, interesting piece, Iva 🙂 I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

    Reply
    • AwesomelyOZ
      December 3, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      I am considering one of those lamps for work – Lol. I get negative, yes, I can feel a change in my perception of things and how I react to things. I’m more sensitive and easily agitated, it’s annoying. Glad you enjoyed this post Danielle! Hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving break! Take Care and talk soon -Iva

      Reply

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