Overcoming the Winter Blues

When days become shorter, cloudier, and colder, the “winter blues” set in for many people. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.).

What is S.A.D.? It is a form of depression that usually begins in fall and lasts through winter. Less commonly, symptoms may begin in spring and last through summer.

It affects about 10 million Americans (80 percent of whom are women), with another 10 to 20 percent experiencing milder episodes. The age of onset is typically between ages 18 and 30.

What are the Causes?

The precise answer to the question “What is S.A.D.?” is unknown, but experts believe that winter S.A.D. is related to reduced sun exposure, creating:

  • Lower Vitamin D levels and internal body-clock disruption
  • Reduced serotonin, a natural mood-elevating brain chemical
  • Increased melatonin, a natural sleep-cycle elevating brain chemical

What are the Symptoms of the Winter Blues?

The following indicators might begin mildly but increase in intensity as winter progresses:

  • Depression throughout most of the day
  • Reduced energy, fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Sleeping too much
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in appetite, especially craving sweet or starchy foods
  • Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Irritability
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Feelings of heaviness in limbs
  • Suicidal thoughts

winter bluesWho is at Risk?

Anyone can experience winter blues, also known as S.A.D., but it is most common in:

  • Women
  • Those with (or having family members with) other mental health issues
  • Those living far from the equator

What Treatments are Available?

Self-care is highly useful for the prevention and treatment of S.A.D. Try doing these things: 

  • Engage in physical activity. This improves physical fitness, sleep patterns, and raises endorphin and serotonin levels for increased self-esteem.
  • Spend time outdoors. Sunlight elevates Vitamin D levels. But, even if it is cloudy, get outside! Natural daylight is still helpful.
  • Maintain an awareness of mood and energy level. Try to approach the cold weather positively. A good attitude makes a big difference.   

Beyond self-care, treatment options include:

  • Light therapy. Broad-band light therapy engages artificial light as an alternative to natural sunlight. This involves the use of a light-box or visor for a designated period of time each day.
  • Psychotherapy. Speaking with a licensed professional is a proven effective method of treatment.
  • Medication. Your mental health provider can make recommendations including traditional antidepressants prescribed for similar diagnoses.

If left untreated, seasonal affective disorder can lead to problems at school or work, substance abuse, eating disorders, or other issues affecting quality of life.

You are not alone, and help is at your fingertips.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms or suicidal thoughts, contact a medical professional immediately.

Contact us to see how we can help.

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