Many people dread the transition from autumn to winter. The days grow shorter and colder, and thoughts of the upcoming holiday season can cause unneeded stress or dread in anyone’s life. While some are content with the colder weather and happily bundle up to continue their regular routines, others find winter much more difficult to manage. It is estimated that 2-3% of Canadians suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder at any given time, and winter is the most common time for SAD symptoms to flare up.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The main criteria for SAD is that an individual must experience major depression or manic episodes that coincide with certain seasons every year for at least 2 years in a row. SAD itself isn’t a type of mood disorder; instead, it’s considered to be a type of major depression or bipolar depression.
However, unlike chronic depression, those affected by SAD won’t experience symptoms during other seasons of the year. For most people with SAD, they begin experiencing symptoms in late autumn or winter, but their symptoms go into remission when spring arrives.
Symptoms of SAD
To have a diagnosis of SAD, the symptoms should be a result of the changing seasons rather than stressful life situations. For example, a person who commonly feels down in the winter due to slow business or lack of work is experiencing other stressors that aren’t directly related to the season. Someone with SAD will notice that the same symptoms appear during specific seasons regardless of how happy they are, or how well their life is going. Although everyone experiences SAD differently, some common symptoms can include:
You might be tempted to just “wait it out” and see if your symptoms go away on their own, but this will only increase the chances of the symptoms becoming more severe. Even though the symptoms may last only a few months, about 6% of people with seasonal affective disorder have to be hospitalized due to their intense feelings of depression or hopelessness.
For any type of depression, including SAD, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will likely run a few tests to rule out other illnesses that can mimic symptoms of SAD, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, low blood sugar, or underactive thyroid. If you are diagnosed with SAD, you will have a few different treatment options, including:
Ways to Decrease SAD Symptoms
Treatment may take some time before you start feeling better, so doctors also recommend making a few small changes in your daily life to combat SAD. These tips can be useful for anyone who may feel a little sluggish or unmotivated at any time during the winter, so encourage your family and loved ones to follow this advice as well!
For more help coping with the symptoms of any depressive disorder, reach out to us at Oakville Wellness Center.
Relaxation is an important part of human life. Everyone loves to take breaks and recuperate from time to time, and relaxation is shown to reduce stress and have several health benefits. Approximately 77% of adults regularly experience physical symptoms as a result of stress. These symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, chest pain, and more, and they can lead to serious conditions like cardiovascular diseases and mental health problems. Making time for relaxation can help manage this stress and prevent it from manifesting physically. Techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and rest help produce a relaxation response in the body which can decrease stress and stress-related conditions.
However, as helpful as relaxation can be, the age-old adage “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” applies to relaxation as well. When people achieve relaxation in the wrong ways or over-prioritize it in their lives, there can be unhealthy consequences just as dangerous as having too much stress. Here are some signs that your relaxation techniques might be more problematic than they are beneficial:
You Achieve Relaxation in Harmful Ways
There are both positive and negative ways to achieve relaxation. If you use negative ways to reach a state of relaxation, you are going to increase your stress levels and cause more damage than good. Abusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances might feel helpful in the moment, but these coping mechanisms are unhealthy and can have significant health risks. Addiction to drugs and alcohol can cause physical and emotional problems that can lead to severe bodily damage and even death. You should avoid using substances to try and reduce stress.
Other negative ways people use to try and manage stress include unhealthy or excessive habits. Overeating and binge-eating can be disastrous for your health, which will lead to increased stress and health problems like obesity and heart-disease. Seek help if your stress-managing eating habits have become out of control. Over using entertainment and binge-watching television has been linked with depression and loneliness. While it might be helpful to set aside time to watch television, play video games, or use other electronics to take a break, when you spend hours upon hours doing these activities, you put your health at risk. Poor coping habits like impulsive purchasing can devastate people financially and mentally, and it can also ruin marriages and other relationships. Make sure to avoid these habits when you are trying to deal with the stressors in your life.
Emotionally or physically cheating on a significant other is a surefire way to poison a relationship. Destroying your health and the relationships you have with people you care about is never a good way to manage the problems you are facing in life. If you are participating in any of these activities in order to feel relaxed, your relaxation is harmful, not helpful.
You Over-Prioritize Relaxation
While relaxation can have wonderful benefits for people who make time for it regularly, it can be problematic for people who dedicate too much time to it. If you are relaxing when you should be working or you are slacking off instead of taking care of your responsibilities, you are relaxing in a harmful way. Like anything else in life, relaxation needs to be balanced among your other duties. If you are sleeping or participating in other stress-relief activities when it is time to for you to go to work or take care of your children, then you are not achieving a healthy balance. In fact, sleeping too much can ruin your sleep schedule and cause insomnia. Carve out time for relaxation, but make sure that you have time to take care of your other duties as well. Make sure to relax in moderation.
You Use Relaxation to Avoid Conflict
If you are in a partnership or friendship where there are unhealthy problems that need to be handled, you should not seek relaxation in order to escape or cope with the conflict in those relationships. Do not be so relaxed that you are afraid to confront someone. Avoid using relaxation as a form of escapism in order to prevent yourself from having potentially hard conversations with others. Practice good communication and address issues in your relationships when necessary. Communication is a healthy way to begin to address conflict, and everyone involved will be better for it.
Your Relaxation Promotes Isolation
While it is definitely important to carve out time for yourself and have alone time, be wary if your relaxation techniques only involve isolation. It is important to be around others and to communicate to your friends and family when you are feeling overly-stressed or you are having a difficult time coping with problems in your life. Actively avoiding others is not a beneficial way to relax and it can cause you to feel lonely and depressed.
For more information or for help finding positive relaxation and coping techniques, visit Oakville Wellness Center.
Mental illness is often the result of a complicated interaction between our genetic makeup, lived experiences and the environment we inhabit.
Scientists have yet to precisely identify the root of the difficulties 1 in 5 Americans face in a given year (National Alliance on Mental illness, 2017).
Advances in the area of mental health research are vitally important as they can help to inform new treatments.
Researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn in Germany recently discovered that a gene called “SLC6A4” was strongly correlated with someone's chances of suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD). Initial findings have been published online in the journal of Psychiatric Genetics.
SLC6A4 is involved in transporting serotonin in the nervous system. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the “happiness hormone” as it is involved in feelings of positivity and wellbeing.
The fact that some people are born with an innate disposition towards suffering from SAD is extremely interesting, particularly given its high prevalence rates in the American population.
Anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental illnesses affecting up to 18% of the population (Anxiety and Depression association of America, 2017).
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
SAD is often minimized by people confusing it with “shyness” or simply being introverted. In reality, SAD is an intense and persistent fear of social situations. Those with SAD may experience bouts of anxiety over simple everyday things such as answering the phone or being asked directions on the street.
Whilst many of us may experience mild anxiety over social situations, those with SAD will experience chronic worry before, during and after the social scenario. They particularly fear embarrassment or social rejection.
SAD is often apparent from an early age and first manifests itself in childhood or adolescence. It is also almost twice as common in women as men, with prevalence particularly high in Europe and North America.
Scientists are not fully sure why women are more prone to anxiety but some have theorised that this propensity may be linked to differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations.
Women are also more prone to stress and tend to mull over stressful situations more than men, who tend to pursue more active coping strategies.
So what does Social Anxiety Disorder look like and how is it diagnosed? Here are some of the signs:
Some individuals who suffer from SAD also experience panic attacks.
Panic attacks result from fear of social situations that becomes overwhelming, leading up to a physical response. Although panic attacks usually only last a few minutes, they are extremely unpleasant.
The individual may feel nauseous and experience trembling, palpitations and a shortness of breath. Although panic attacks don’t lead to any long- term physical difficulties they are extremely alarming.
SAD often co- occurs with other disorders such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder and post- traumatic stress disorder.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
As previously discussed SAD is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although certain genes may significantly increase the likelihood of SAD, this may not be enough for the disorder to manifest itself.
Researchers have linked parenting styles to the likelihood of developing SAD. As SAD may have a genetic root, parents may be more worried or anxious, translating poor coping styles to their children.
Getting Diagnosed with SAD
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the tool most commonly used to diagnose mental conditions including SAD. Criteria includes:
Persistent fear of and/ or intense anxiety about social scenarios in which you believe you may be judged or act in a way that's embarrassing.
Avoidance of social situations and/or intense anxiety when present in social situations
Anxiety that's out of proportion to the situation
Anxiety or distress that impedes your daily living
Fear or anxiety that cannot be explained by a different medical condition, medication or substance problem
These criteria should be present for 6 months or more
How is SAD Treated?
SAD may be treated with medications and/ or psychotherapy. Psychological counselling is highly effective for those suffering from SAD. It can help the individual learn ways to deal with stress in social situations and build self- confidence.
One of the more commonly used treatments is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). CBT may help the individual to see that their fears are irrational and help them to gradually work up to facing the social situations they fear the most. One tactic that is often employed is role- playing, whereby the individual can practice being in social situations and build up confidence in a safe and secure environment.
SAD can be all- consuming for the sufferer, as being crippled regarding ones social life and interactions limits our ability to form relationships, push our personal boundaries and live a happy and fulfilling life.
It has a remarkably high prevalence rate and many suffers stay under the radar undiagnosed.
SAD responds remarkably well to treatment, however, and if you suspect you may have SAD, please seek out a local mental health professional and learn to tame the anxiety you face daily.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Turk, C. L., Heimberg, R. G., & Hope, D. A. (2001). Social anxiety disorder. Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual, 3, 114-153.
The act of giving birth is one of the most celebrated in human society. We all know parents who gush about this phenomenal experience and detail the elation they felt in the hours and days following. Popular culture and film are also awash with moving scenes of childhood as couples transition to parenthood against a backdrop of sentimental music and family joy.
What is less often depicted is that once the post-partum dust has settled, the early stages of parenthood can be truly difficult.
Whilst many women suffer the “baby blues” and may be anxious or tearful for short periods of time (usually around one to two weeks) following birth, this can sometimes develop into something more serious.
If symptoms last much longer, or start later into motherhood, postnatal depression is a possibility. Postnatal depression (sometimes also referred to as postpartum depression) is a mood disorder associated with childbirth. It is estimated that approximately 13% of women experience postnatal depression.
Symptoms that you or a loved one may be suffering from postnatal depression include:
What causes postnatal depression?
Unfortunately the answer to this isn’t entirely clear but it is believed to be caused by a combination of factors.
On a physiological level, pregnancy and birth bring with it a whole host of hormonal changes, which may lead to changes in mood. Hormones affect some women to a greater extent than others.
Parents who have suffered from depression prior to childbirth, are much more likely to develop postnatal depression. A family history of mental illness is also a risk factor.
That said, a history of depression does not automatically mean that you will go on to develop depression postpartum. It may be helpful to be aware that you are at risk, so that you can look out for the signs mentioned above.
Aside from this, there are factors relating to the birth process itself that may trigger postnatal depression. These include:
Your home-life may also be influential. Unsuitable housing or money issues may naturally make the transition to parenthood more stressful. Worries relating to work can also hamper your ability to relax and settle into the changes you face.
A strong support network and supportive partner may provide a protective effect against postnatal depression. It is not helpful to spend too much time alone without adult company so if you are feeling isolated it may be helpful to reach out to other parents in the community.
Can men experience postnatal depression?
Although men may not experience the hormonal storm of pregnancy, they may still be subject to its emotional effects. A recent study conducted in Sweden found that 28% of men demonstrated mild levels of depression. Women are routinely screened for postnatal depression while paternal mental health is often overlooked.
The research team added a series of questions to the most commonly used postnatal depression screen, in order to capture the unique symptoms that may be displayed by men. These included working longer hours, irritability and excessive alcohol consumption.
It is not entirely clear whether depression in fathers is a newer phenomenon, or just something which we have only recently begun to explore and detect. Many new fathers face challenges such as trying to balance their work life with their family life as well as decreased sleep and changes in their relationship.
Naturally, depression makes it harder for a new father to invest time in the newborn. Fathers experiencing difficulties should consider that they may have paternal postnatal depression.
How can postnatal depression be treated?
The first step is to speak to your general practitioner. With prevalence rates estimated to lie at about 13%, it is much more common than you think, and health services are trained to recognise the signs and give you the support that you need.
Self-care: It is also crucial at this stage to be kind to yourself. Take care of your primary needs such as getting enough sleep, eating well and doing things that you enjoy. It may feel like you do not have time for this with a young child on your hands, but don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
Talk therapy: As with many psychological difficulties and types of depression, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be useful. Most experienced therapists will be able to provide a course of CBT and tailor it to the specific difficulties you may be having. Many new parents struggle to live up to the ideal of “perfect parent” and may not have anticipated the difficulties associated with parenthood. CBT can help new parents find a way to think about the difficulties they face and learn better coping mechanisms.
Antidepressants: Antidepressants may also be useful, particularly if the depression is more severe. Some women worry about taking antidepressants whilst breastfeeding but your doctor will be able to provide you with ones that are safe.
One of the worst things about postnatal depression can be feeling alone or unusual in the feelings you are having. This couldn’t be further from the truth and it can help to reach out to national organisations. These can not only provide information and advice but also networks of other parents to talk to.
Cox, J. L., Holden, J. M., & Sagovsky, R. (1987). Detection of postnatal depression. Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The British journal of psychiatry, 150(6), 782-786.
NHS, Unknown. “Postnatal Depression.” NHS Choices, NHS, 11 Feb. 2016, www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-natal-depression/treatment/.
Psouni, E., Agebjörn, J., & Linder, H. (2017). Symptoms of depression in Swedish fathers in the postnatal period and development of a screening tool. Scandinavian journal of psychology.