The Winter Blues or Something More?
When the summer ends and the days grow shorter, it’s common for some people to find themselves in a bit of a slump. Maybe they lack the energy to be as productive during the day or they are constantly feeling lethargic and sleepy. These may seem like normal by-products of the winter months, when days are spent mostly inside, but for some people, these characteristics are actually linked to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is considered a type of major depression—the symptoms just depend on the season (typically going into “remission” during the spring and summer months). Although researchers haven’t discovered a definitive “cause” of SAD, there a few actors that play a part in the diagnosis. The reduction of sunlight during the fall and winter not only affects your biological clock, but it also reduces both the level of serotonin (“a brain chemical that regulates your mood”) and melatonin (“a chemical which regulates sleep and mood”), explains Mayo Clinic.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of SAD include “low energy, hypersomnia” (excessive sleeping/feeling tired constantly), “overeating, weight gain, craving carbohydrates, and social withdrawal.” Typically younger people and females have an increased risk for seasonal affective disorder as well as people who live farther from the equator or have a family history of depression.
How to Cope with SAD?
Although there are a few ways to help combat seasonal affective disorder, it’s highly recommended to seek professional help. If symptoms persist and you begin to notice that it’s affecting your everyday life, then it’s a good time to consult with a doctor.
Some non-medicated ways to deal with seasonal affective disorder include the following:
- Healthy Lifestyle—Try planning a physical activity either outside or inside (or at a gym) a few days a week. This “natural antidepressant” can have a significant effect on SAD symptoms.
- Planning a Trip to Somewhere Warm—Of course, if that’s not possible due to finances or scheduling, try to spend some time outside every day, soaking up as much natural sunlight as possible.
- Light Therapy—This technique is perhaps the most common method for coping with SAD. This special light box emits a certain level and intensity of safe light that mimics the effects of natural light, which then “trigger[s] chemicals in your brain that help regulate your mood.” It’s important to consult with your doctor before purchasing anything, as you want to make sure you buy a safe and effective tool.
- Talk Therapy—Much like how therapy is a great tool for people suffering from major depression, speaking with a professional counselor is a safe place for people with SAD to discuss what they’re feeling and figure out ways to cope, such as various relaxation or stress-management techniques.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different. For some people, these symptoms might just be a day or two experience, as their bodies adjust to the change in seasons. However, if you’re feeling these “Winter Blues” persist, know that it is okay (and, in fact, a wise and strong decision) to seek the help you may need.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to help you