Winter can be a beautiful season filled with blankets of white snow, friendly gatherings and the smell of peppermint and fresh cut pine permeating the air. However, these simple joys of the season are missed by many who suffer through Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the somewhat milder Winter Blues, that will bury them under the weight of depression throughout the winter months. Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, a renown expert in cyclical mood patterns and a current Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School, tells us;
"Six percent of the US population, primarily in northern climates, is affected by SAD in its most marked form. Another 14 percent of the adult US population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues."
Both conditions are more prevalent in women than men, and are theorized to be related to genetic traits. Also, although the
symptoms are triggered by dark winters, anyone has the potential to experience SAD or the winter blues. What this means is, someone from a Southern environment who's never had a problem, can visit the Netherlands in January and be affected.
Common Symptoms of SAD and the Winter Blues
When days get shorter, people affected often:
- Sleep longer and have a harder time waking up. Studies show that SAD sufferers average 2.5 hours more sleep in winter and winter blues sufferers sleep 1.7 hours more, which is much longer than the average population at the same time of year.
- Experience depleted energy levels. Staying home and sleeping or eating comfort foods is all they can manage to do for themselves. Anything else is much harder to conceive as possible.
- Gain weight. The initial onset of depression promotes a sedentary lifestyle that cuts out most activity causing weight gain. The weight gain, in return increases depression.
- Become disinterested in life causing their work, school and social lives to suffer the consequences of neglect.
What You Can Do
On your own you can:
- Regulate your diet and alcohol consumption. Heavy foods, sugars and alcohol can be major downers in the long run. Try to add plenty of veggies and seasonal fruits to your diet to keep your energy levels up. Caffeine isn't a bad way to gain some extra pep mid morning, it's actually been related to mood enhancement, just don't over do it with the sugary additions to avoid the quick energy crash that follows.
- Activated your social life. Give yourself a reason to get out of the house. Meeting a friend just to talk over lunch exposes you to fresh air and gives you personal contact and reassurance that you are not alone.
- Move your body. As tough as it is to get going, even a small amount of exercise can boost serotonin levels and get your blood flowing.
- Meditate. Stress has been proven to cause a number of ills and increases cortisol, a hormone that can increase weight gain (making you more depressed. It's a vicious cycle). Using your downtime effectively by relaxing through calming deep breathing, centers your mind and body, and clears your head to continue your productive day.
- Talk to a pro. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great way to sort out what's keeping you down, and gain some professional knowledge on how to combat your blues.
- Light Therapy. 60%-80% of SAD sufferers benefit from Light Therapy. Lights are widely available online, just make sure you find one that sticks to clinical recommendations. Check out the Mayo Clinic's "Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light box" to make sure your device meets therapeutic standards.
Source: 1. Rosenthal NE. Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 2006.