When the Onset of Winter Brings Colder Feelings With It
Changing seasons can mean very different things to different people. Some see the shorter days as an introduction to the upcoming bustling holiday season, filled with lights, family gatherings, and tradition.
While others have a different perception of the winter months being colder days, longer nights, and more days spent indoors. This can leave people feeling a little more “bummed out” than they do in the summer or spring months and can sometimes be referred to as the “winter blues”. What about when the winter blues feel more like depression? It may be a commonly occuring seasonal depression known as seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D.
How Do I Know When It’s S.A.D.?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D, is a depressive condition that affects millions of people each year. Those who are in the Northern Hemisphere of the United States seem to be the most affected by this disorder. It is estimated that around 5 percent of the population suffers from this disorder, with the majority of those people residing in the Northern part of the United States. This makes sense; however, because those are usually the people who endure the harshest and longest winters.
Other populations that seem to be the most affected are:
- Pregnant Women
- Women, in general
- Young Adults within the ages of 18-30
- Those who already struggle with Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder
The signs of S.A.D are the same as that of depression. If you feel like you are:
- Sleeping more, or less
- Having difficulty finding motivation
- Socializing less
- Eating more
- Have a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling constantly fatigued
- Feeling depressed or down most every day
You may need to reach out to a family doctor or therapist to talk with them about your symptoms and consider you may be struggling with more than just the winter blues.
What Can I Do to Begin Feeling Better?
Most people don’t want to sit around and wait until Spring comes around to begin feeling better. Luckily, there are some relatively easy things that you can do at home to improve your mood.
Getting around 20-30 minutes of physical activity at least 3x per week has shown to be beneficial for symptoms of depression. Exercise is known to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which are neurotransmitters that play a role in feelings of happiness.
2. Light Therapy
The most effective treatment for S.A.D has been light therapy. To participate in light therapy, patients are exposed to a phototherapy box at the end of the day for about 30 minutes. Light therapy has been shown to help improve sleep quality and mood in those struggling with the disorder. While light therapy has shown to help those with S.A.D, it has also been shown to trigger mania in some patients with bipolar disorder, so some doctors are cautious in prescribing it. If you aren’t able to engage in light therapy, try to get some amount of direct sunlight throughout the day.
Low doses of melatonin have been shown to improve sleep quality in patients suffering from S.A.D, as well. Over-the-counter melatonin is designed to help make you sleepy, so taking some at bedtime may help reset the body’s internal clock and improve any disruptions in sleep patterns. Before you try this method, please check with your doctor to make sure it is okay to take any over-the-counter supplements.
4. Develop and Keep a Healthy Routine
If you’re having difficulty finding the motivation to exercise, socialize, or eat right, schedule it into your day or week. Planning your meals for the week can help with just grabbing the first thing you see when you’re hungry and if you don’t plan to keep junk in the house, it won’t be there for you to binge on at night. Try planning social activities with friends and family and have them hold you accountable for showing up. Getting outside and maintaining social relationships can be hard to do during the winter months but isolating yourself can make feelings of depression worse.
A Treatable Condition
Thankfully, there are many treatment options that you can engage in if you struggle with seasonal affective disorder or even just the winter blues. Treatments can range from at-home alternatives all the way to anti-depressants if needed. If you feel like you may be seeing signs of depression during the winter months, please do not suffer in silence. Reach out to a friend, family member, or your doctor and let them know what has been going on. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner you will begin to feel better and you won’t feel like you’re just holding out until the spring.