Everyone feels the effects of winter one way or another. Either the chilly temperatures drive you indoors or you have trouble adjusting to the shorter days, even as they begin to lengthen. For some, these effects are compounded by clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Regardless of the reasons why you find yourself suffering from the winter blues, there are treatments and activities that can help. Let’s take a closer look at what the winter blues are and how to counteract them.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
People who suffer from SAD are specifically affected by the turning of the season. Depression begins to set in as fall begins and continues until the days even out again near the spring equinox. It causes mood swings, a lack of energy, and feelings of despair.
SAD is the most complex form of depression in the winter. People who suffer from it should not dismiss it as just the winter blues. It is normal for anyone to have days where they feel down, but one of the defining characteristics of SAD is constant depression during the winter months.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Daily depression
- Low energy
- Oversleeping and trouble falling asleep
- Loss of interest
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
SAD can be caused by a number of things, including a limited amount of sunlight that affects the body’s circadian rhythms and drops in serotonin and melatonin levels produced.
How many people are affected by SAD?
There are many risk factors for SAD. Women are more likely to experience depression in the winter than men, but when men are affected, their symptoms may be worse. Young people are more susceptible to SAD in the wintertime. People with a family history of SAD or other symptoms of depression may also have more problems in the wintertime. SAD is also more common in people with other forms of clinical depression and the symptoms may be worse in the winter. It also depends on where someone lives. The further from the equator you are, the more likely you will be affected by the loss of sunlight during the day. In spite of these possible demographics, only about 4-6% of people are diagnosed with SAD in the United States.
Of course, not everyone affected by the winter blues has SAD so it is important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms before making any changes in your diet, routine, medications, or lifestyle. You may need to apply a different approach to treatments if you have SAD and clinical depression rather than just some bad days during the wintertime.
How to battle the winter blues
If you are diagnosed with SAD and chronic depression, it is important that you follow the right treatment plan to help you cope with the short, dark days. This may include light treatments, medications, or counseling. Reach out to your doctor for their guidance.
However, here are eight great ways for everyone combat the winter blues:
- Get moving: It might be hard to get out into the cold when winter hits but exercise can help blast the blues away. Exercise relieves stress, increases endorphins that provide a sense of happiness, and help you get fit.
- Focus on healthy foods: Skip processed and sugary foods and replace them with complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. Without the right nutrients, your body will become sluggish and will your brain to be moodier.
- Take advantage of the sun: Our bodies get vitamin D from the sun. In the winter it may be harder to take advantage of sunlight hours because of various work schedules and the chilly winter air. Get outside as much as possible and keep your window shades open to let sun into your house as you can.
- Don’t drink your feelings: Alcohol is a depressant so while drinking at home might sound like a great idea when it is cold outside, it can also backfire. Responsible drinking is fine for most but avoid binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting, to keep from feeling worse than when you started.
- Provide incentives: Plan something fun and exciting to keep your mind off the cold, dark winter. This could be something as big as a vacation or just a trip to a local spa with friends. Try to do something fun once a week or once a month during the winter.
- Look for the positives: Winter isn’t all bad. Yes, the weather can get you down and the lack of leaves on the trees can feel depressing, but that isn’t all there is to it. Winter can be majestic and magical if you look for the right things. Find a winter activity that you can only do this time of year to enjoy the season.
- Get social: Friends are one of the best support systems to help defeat the winter blues. Plan social activities into your weeks. Also, create a network of friends and family members who understand your seasonal blues and will help when you ask.
- Get the right amount of sleep: For many people who are battling various levels of winter blues, sleep patterns get disrupted. Try not to oversleep, which is very common in the winter. And try not to get too little sleep either. Try building a routine, meditating, or taking supplements to help regulate your sleep cycle.
At Holistic Pain we believe that good mental health is critical to everyone’s overall well-being. If you’re feeling the winter blues, it is important that you determine the severity and the right treatment methods to help you stay well.
Have you had experiences with the winter blues or SAD? How did you handle it?
Image by Helgi Halldórsson via Flickr