Editor’s note: Each week, our Friday Fix series offers pancreatic cancer patients and caregivers a new topic related to health, diet and nutrition. Today’s post focuses on seasonal depression, including its causes, signs and treatments.

Chilly and gray winter days can dampen anyone’s mood, but they’re a bigger problem for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

According to WebMD, SAD is a type of depression people experience when the seasons change, with most cases occurring in fall and winter. Studies show that SAD affects about 5 percent of American adults each year.

It’s not uncommon to have some “winter blues” when winter weather keeps you indoors, and the days are darker and nights longer. But if your low mood becomes debilitating, it’s possible you’re suffering from SAD.

Because depression can be common among those with serious health conditions, including pancreatic cancer, it’s important to talk with your healthcare team about any symptoms or changes in mood that you’re experiencing. Since these feelings can worsen in the wintertime, those affected by pancreatic cancer should also be aware of SAD, ways to fight it and help that’s available.

What Causes SAD?

While researchers continue to look for the specific cause of SAD, science shows that sunlight affects biological processes in the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, getting less sunlight during wintertime can cause you to:

  • Produce less serotonin, a chemical which affects mood. Imbalances in serotonin levels are thought to cause depression.
  • Produce more melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep patterns. Higher melatonin levels can cause you to feel more symptoms of depression, like tiredness.
  • Have trouble sleeping, because seasonal changes can disrupt your circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that sends signals on when it’s time to sleep or wake up.

What Are the Signs of SAD?

The American Cancer Society highlights a few SAD signs to watch for. If you’re suffering from SAD, you may:

  • Feel moody most days. You may feel sad, empty, agitated, guilty, worthless or helpless.
  • Be less interested in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Gain or lose significant weight.
  • Have less energy.
  • Find it harder to focus, remember things or make decisions.
  • Sleep less or too much.
  • Think about death or dying frequently.

How to Manage SAD

Addressing SAD, or any form of depression, can help improve quality of life. If you think you have SAD, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare team. Your healthcare team can diagnose SAD and refer you to specialists who can help. If you have SAD, your doctors may recommend tactics like medicine, talk therapy and more to help you feel better. The following tips may also help:

  • Get additional support. Contact the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s PanCAN Patient Services. PanCAN Patient Services can help pancreatic cancer patients find one-to-one professional counseling or connect them to other resources, such as the Survivor & Caregiver Network or additional support groups.
  • Try light therapy. Light therapy is shown to improve the moods of SAD sufferers, according to WebMD. Light therapy involves special lamps or light boxes that give out powerful amounts of fluorescent light, far beyond the capacity of normal indoor lighting. Sitting next to one of these lights can make a difference.
  • Soak up sunshine. The days are shorter in wintertime, so try to get out in the sunnier hours as much as possible. When you’re indoors, be sure to open your blinds and sit close to a sunny window as you read or enjoy a meal.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Aim to sleep seven to nine hours each night. This will help you feel rested and enjoy more daylight hours.
  • Stay active. Studies show that regular exercise can help you sleep better and brighten your mood. But exercise isn’t the only way to stay active. Spending time with friends and doing volunteer work can help cheer you up too.

Don’t let depression lessen the morale and energy you can put into your treatment journey. Help is available, so don’t wait to get the support you need and deserve.

Contact a Patient Central Associate
Contact Patient Central to learn more about pancreatic cancer-related depression and for any questions about the disease and its treatment.