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Seasonal Depression: Is it just the “Winter Blues”?

As the days grow darker and colder during the fall and winter months, many people begin to feel the effects of the “winter blues.” What happens when a few restless days turn into months of a depressive fog? You may actually be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of Depression that is related to the changes in seasons. It typically begins in the late fall and continues through the winter until the weather warms up in the spring, and the daylight time gets longer again. SAD predominantly affects women between the ages of 18-40, however men and women over 40 may also show symptoms. You are also more susceptible to suffering from SAD if you have a history of depression or live in an area where sunlight is decreased in the winter.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • Difficulty waking up in the morning

  • Decreased energy throughout the day

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Increased appetite, especially for carbs

  • Oversleeping

  • Weight gain

  • Irritability or hypersensitivity

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Isolation from friends and family

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless

  • Suicidal Thoughts (in extreme cases)

Most people suffer from one or more of these symptoms once in a while during the winter. It is only considered Seasonal Affective Disorder if symptoms appear most days throughout the fall and winter months and have a moderate to severe impact on one’s daily life.

What causes SAD?

Scientists aren’t entirely sure why some people suffer from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but know that sunlight plays a major role. Sunlight affects how the body operates, impacting these body processes:

  • Circadian Rhythm: Reduced levels of sunlight can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock), leading to feelings of depression.

  • Serotonin Levels: Reduced levels of sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of happiness and stabilizes mood), resulting in mood changes.

  • Melatonin Levels: Lack of sunlight actually causes the body to produce more melatonin, causing feelings of fatigue, sleepiness and mood swings.

How is SAD treated?

  • Light Therapy – Light therapy boxes can be purchased online and when used for at least 30 minutes a day have been shown to reduce symptoms.

  • Open Up Those Curtains - You want as much light coming into your home as possible, make sure curtains are open and lamps are on so rooms aren’t dark.

  • Get Outside – Take a walk, especially when the sun is shining

  • Exercise Regularly – Regular exercise has been proven to help symptoms of depression.

  • Take Extra Vitamin D – Lack of sunshine means your body gets less vitamin d, consider taking a supplement during the winter months.

  • Eat More Omega 3’s – These fatty acids play a huge role in regulating mood. Add more fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and pecans to your diet.

  • Practice Stress Management Techniques – You may feel more stressed out during the winter months; taking care of yourself is vitally important. Try adding yoga, meditation, message, a bubble bath or anything that helps you reduce stress to your weekly routine.

  • Psychotherapy – Sometimes it helps to speak with someone who can provide you with further assistance, especially if your symptoms are more severe.

  • Medication – In extreme cases antidepressants may be used to increase mood.

Everyone occasionally suffers from a bout of the “winter blues.” But listen to your body for: if symptoms are becoming severe, impacting your daily routine, use suggestions above and seek some professional help.

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