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5 Ways to Beat The Winter Blues of Depression and Sadness: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dr. Adi Moorman

 

Did you know that three million Americans are diagnosed every year with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a type of depression that starts in the fall or winter and progressively gets worse. It improves around the spring and summer when the days get longer. SAD can occur also in the summer, but it is less common. Seasonal Affective Disorder has to occur in a repeated pattern for at least two years in order to be considered a diagnosis. We are going to discuss the signs of seasonal depression and how you can beat the winter blues.

 

Here are the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Signs of Depression:

  1. Feeling depressed most of the day almost daily.
  2. Feeling hopeless and worthless
  3. Lack of energy
  4. Losing interest in things you enjoyed before
  5. Difficulty concentrating
  6. Feeling sluggish or agitated
  7. Having thoughts of death and suicide frequently
     

Other symptoms of winter SAD:

  1. Low energy
  2. Hypersomnia
  3. Overeating (craving for carbohydrates)
  4. Weight gain
  5. Withdrawing from social activities
     

Researchers are unsure about the causes for SAD. However, three factors were found as correlating with SAD. People with seasonal depression have problem regulating serotonin, one of the most important neurotransmitters associated with mood stabilizing. People with SAD may also be producing more melatonin. Reduction in sunlight (shorter days) triggers more production of melatonin that regulates sleep. Therefore, people sleep more and feel more tired and sluggish. Another factor may be the lower production of vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” which is produced in the skin with exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is connected with serotonin activity and a lack of vitamin D is also associated with depression.

 

It is important to keep in mind some risk factors associated with the disorder:

*Being a female: More women are diagnosed with the disorder than men, four times more.

*Family history: Your risk is higher if you have family members that were diagnosed with SAD or depression.

*Young age: The older you get the less likely you are to be diagnosed with SAD. It is more common in younger adults and even children and teens.

*Living far from the equator: The northern areas in United Sates get less sunlight in the fall and winter. Your geographic place of residence impacts the risk of being diagnosed with SAD.

*Having depression or bipolar: If you have one of these disorder, your symptoms may get worse during the colder months.

 

5 ways to beat the winter blues:

Once you are aware of the pattern, prepare ahead:

  1. Maintain a healthy life style. Continue your exercise routine through the cooler days even if you cannot go outdoors. The most important thing is to keep your body moving. It will do wonders to your mood! Maintain a healthy diet. People tend to eat more carbs and comfort food during the cold months. Gaining weight will make you feel even worse. Try to make good choices and have well balanced meals. You will feel better physically and mentally. Get some sunlight whenever possible by taking advantage of the sunny winter days.
     
  2. Keep your social calendar full. Hibernating is appealing when it is cold and dark. However, being around friends will lift your spirits and boost your mood.
     
  3. In some cases, doctors may prescribe light therapy to assist with mood stabilization. Replacing the natural sunlight with daily exposure to bright artificial light can assist with stabilizing mood.  These special light boxes give off 20 times more the amount of light than regular indoor lighting. The exposure should be done gradually under the guidance of a medical professional.
     
  4. Check with your doctor about vitamin D supplements. You may want to get tested to make sure your vitamin D levels are where they need to be.
     
  5. Attend psychotherapy. You and your therapist will discuss your condition, gain more insight, and find ways for you to take control again in order to improve your quality of life. You may need to get medication to alleviate your symptoms and help you through the challenging time.

Reading this article may be discouraging to some. However, the good thing is that even when the days are short and cold, spring is just around the corner.  If it is too long to wait, consider taking a vacation to a warmer location. This short retrieve may be exactly what you need to give you the respite to get through the winter blues!