After enjoying the warmth of the summer sun, and delighting in the cool, crisp fall air, winter sets in, and with it we often find ourselves experiencing the “winter blues.” As the days get shorter, and our exposure to sunlight is diminished, many find themselves experiencing low mood, weight gain, and a desire to withdraw from usual activities. It’s as if we are entering a period of hibernation.
In recent decades, researchers have been studying the relationship between the changes in seasons and changes in one’s overall mood and sense of well being. They found that Seasonal Affect Disorder or SAD typically starts in the late fall or early winter and goes away during the
spring and summer; this is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. (Some people may experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression and is less common.) In winter months, many report that they most always tend to begin overeating, oversleeping, and have a general lack of energy. As their physical and mental health deteriorates, many things around them tend to lack attention as well, as even the smallest household chores can seem like monumental tasks when one is experiencing the lack of motivation that often accompanies SAD.
Mental health experts have devised a number of coping strategies aimed at helping individuals with SAD navigate these difficult winter months. If you, or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of SAD, the following recommendations may prove helpful:
- Talk with your doctor about having your Vitamin D levels tested, and if necessary, take a Vitamin D supplement to improve mood.
- Shine a little light – Light therapy has been known to be an effective treatment for SAD and has been widely used since the 1980s. Light boxes or lamps, which are about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor light, and can filter out potentially damaging UV light are recommended.
- Try a new indoor hobby. While it can be particularly challenging to be cooped up indoors during the winter months, you may find it beneficial to add a few new indoor hobbies/activities to your daily routine in order to stave off depressive and anxious thoughts while at the same time improving mood and a general sense of satisfaction at a job well done.
- Talk it out. Make sure you have a reliable support system in place. Whether you’re reaching out to a family member, a trusted friend or a psychotherapist, resist the urge to hibernate and isolate.
- In some cases where symptoms of SAD become severe, medication should be considered. SAD, like other types of depression, is associated with disturbances in serotonin activity, thus making antidepressant medications (SSRIs) a valuable tool in combating depressive symptoms and improving mood.
If you would like to schedule a appointment with a member of our behavioral health services team please call (618)519-9200.
For additional information and resources regarding SAD, visit: