‘Winter Blues’ hitting harder than usual? It could be Seasonal Depression
Winter blues got you down? You’re aren’t the only one. You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Depression, or the “Winter Blues”, and wondered is that an actual thing? It’s a very real issue affecting millions of people each year especially those who live in darker regions in the Fall/Winter months.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder – or commonly referred to as 'SAD' – is a mood disorder triggered by a change in seasonal weather patterns such as shorter days, gray skies, and rain,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan R. Hydes, Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) Board Certified Clinical Psychologist. Even though not as common, SAD can also hit you during the Summer months as well. So if you’ve ever felt particularly moody, down, or just not fully yourself in those long, cold winter months, I assure you it’s not just you. There’s a science behind why you’re body feels the changes with the seasons. The good news is, for most, it’s short-lived and leaves with the fresh, beautiful air of Spring and Summer.
The exact reason or cause behind why your body reacts to seasonal changes still remains unknown, but a few factors definitely play a key role:
Circadian Rhythm: better known as Your Biological Clock, gets disrupted by the decrease in sunlight. The shorter days and longer nights can leave you feeling disoriented, groggy and sleepy.
Melatonin levels: when it gets dark, your brain produces melatonin to help you sleep, and stops when you wake up. During those dark winter days, your body may sometimes overly produce melatonin because of the light confusion, thus leaving your body low on energy and drowsy.
Serotonin levels, which help regulate social behavior, appetite, digestion, memory, and sexual desire also suffer from reduced sunlight.
If gone without treatment can result in a number of issues: social withdrawal, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts/behavior. If you feel like you’ve experienced or are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult a doctor or a physician immediately. Lack of motivation, changes in sleep or appetite, feeling hopeless, depressed, agitated, or depending on alcohol for comfort are also key signs or indicators that you should seek some professional help.
Although the signs and symptoms of SAD are the same as for major depression, they are distinguishable in that SAD symptoms remit in the Spring and Summer months. Since the amount of winter daylight you receive changes the farther you are from the equator, SAD is most common in people who live at least 30 degrees latitude north or south. There are also other factors that may leave you predisposed to seasonal depression - such as gender, age and family history.
The great news for you is that there are many ways to help with seasonal depression that do not require any doctor visits or medication whatsoever! For many, prescription medications tend to include a hefty list of side effects that, more often than not, make matters worse. One simple thing that helps with seasonal depression is light therapy or phototherapy. Phototherapy has also been used worldwide for nearly a century to treat chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, vitiligo and severe eczema.
Some inexpensive and efficient options to help deal with SAD are
Natural Light: Go for a walk around noon, open up the blinds and soak up that sun! You want to be in bright environments whenever possible.
Healthy Diet: This one’s pretty standard, but eating a balanced diet consisting of lots of water, vegetables, and fresh fruit will minimize mood swings, grogginess and keep your energy levels up!
Stick to a Schedule: "Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH.
Exercise: Keeping active can boost endorphins and serotonin and can actually treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.
Some other options, that may require some expense are
LightBox Therapy: Lightboxes mimic sunlight. It radiates light far brighter than regular bulbs and it’s provided in different wavelengths. Just 30 minutes by a lightbox will stimulate your body’s circadian rhythm and suppresses it’s natural production of melatonin, leaving you more energized.
Take a Vacation: If it’s in your means, take a trip! Visit somewhere hot, sunny and with lots of water. Reset your physical and mental clock and disconnect.
Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): If you feel as though none of the above options seemed to work for you, try consulting a professional. It may cost a little extra, but getting a professional screening can sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to a different type of depression. They can help curb negative thoughts and behaviors that can make the disorder worse.
Thankfully, for most, seasonal depression is just that: seasonal. You can look forward to the beautiful air, sun, and skies of Spring and Summer just around the corner. Stay a few steps ahead of seasonal affective disorder with these simple ideas and beat it in its tracks.