Feeling Moody? Is It Just the Winter Blues?
Here in the northeast, we can all agree that summer comes too late and leaves too soon. The end of the summer season is bittersweet- children (and their parents!) are excited for the start of the new school year, yet simultaneously sad that the carefree nature of summer is coming to an end. As the seasons change, so do our schedules, and rather frequently, our moods. It is not uncommon for individuals to feel a shift in their mood when the weather changes. In fact, this shift in mood can be chronic, and is actually a disorder identified in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5 as Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern (previously called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD).
Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern
Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern (DDSP) is a depressive episode experienced in the fall and winter months, that researchers commonly believe to be caused by (or influenced by) a lack of sunlight. This would make sense considering that during this time of the year, the days get shorter, and our exposure to daylight is drastically reduced when compared to daylight hours during the spring and summer months. This reduced exposure to sunlight results in the disruption to our natural circadian rhythms (our bodies internal “clock”), and also decreases levels of the hormones serotonin and melatonin, which help regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
DDSP can function as a comorbid disorder, or a disorder that commonly co-occurs with other disorders. Eating disorders are one of these common disorders that can occur in conjunction with DDSP, particularly Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Individuals suffering from DDSP often report an increase in appetite, specifically craving foods higher in carbohydrates. Individuals reported consuming an increased amount of these kinds of foods when feeling depressed, anxious, or lonely. Combined with decreased energy and declining mood, these cravings can place one at higher risk for binge eating behaviors.
Those suffering from Bulimia Nervosa may also be subject to worsening symptoms due to DDSP influences. Research indicates that patients with Bulimia Nervosa commonly experience worsened depressive and appetite symptoms like those of DDSP, resulting in the more frequent binge/purge behaviors of the disorder. Further, individuals who have actually overcome binge/purge behaviors report that urges to act on these behaviors are increased during the fall and winter months of the year.
Although less frequently, individuals suffering from Anorexia Nervosa may also experience symptoms of DDSP. Those with anorexia commonly suffer from depression, which has been shown to worsen during the winter months. For people with eating disorders, DDSP can seriously affect their ability to stay in the recovery mindset and battle the urge to act out on behaviors. Especially during a season surrounding holidays and big family meals, individuals with DDSP and eating disorders require extra support.
While treatment such as therapy and medication can alleviate some of the symptoms of DDSP and eating disorders, Light Therapy has been shown to treat DDSP as well as bulimia. Light therapy uses a light box to emit artificial light that individuals suffering from DDSP can sit in front of for approximately 30 minutes a day to help alleviate symptoms. Although seemingly simple, this short task everyday could help someone suffering from DDSP and an eating disorder tremendously, and made their journey in recovery a little smoother.
The Center for Eating Disorders Blog. Seasonal Depression: Fall-ing Into Winter. Retrieved Sept 2, 2016.
Eating Disorder HOPE. Seasonal Affective Disorder as a Co-Ocurring Issue with Eating Disorders. Retrieved Sept 2, 2016.