Beating the Winter Blues

The winter blues could be a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If winter leaves you feeling sad, it could be the result of SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder. This very real mood disorder occurs at the same time every year and is characterized by a serious case of winter blues—those who suffer from it feel depressed and tired and tend to oversleep, overeat, and crave carbohydrates.

Not everyone who feels blue during the winter suffers from SAD, but if you see a pattern of depression that recurs every winter, you may want to consider consulting a professional to determine whether you suffer from the disorder and what you can do about it.

About SAD

Most people who suffer from SAD have symptoms that begin in the fall and continue throughout the winter. Symptoms may include depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, weight gain, and difficulty concentrating. Conversely, some but not all people who suffer from SAD can experience mania or hyperactivity during the summer months.

Though the exact causes of SAD remain unknown, there is some evidence that indicates that the disorder is related to a disruption in melatonin and serotonin levels and also could be the result of a disruption to the circadian rhythms of the body—more commonly referred to as the biological clock. The lack of sunlight in winter can disrupt the body’s internal clock, confusing the waking and sleeping patterns.

SAD is more common in women than men. It also occurs more frequently in people who live far from the equator (very far north or very far south), where the winter days are shorter. In addition, there may be a genetic component to the disorder, as individuals with a family history are at a higher risk for developing the condition.

Beating the Blues

There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for treating SAD, but there are some strategies that produce promising results:

  • Light therapy: Lack of exposure to natural light appears to be a major factor in SAD. Light therapy can stimulate the pineal gland and help re-establish proper circadian rhythms. Light therapy—or phototherapy—involves spending time each day sitting a few feet from a specialized light therapy box so that you are exposed to bright light. You may also want to consider replacing all of your light bulbs with full-spectrum lighting and keeping blinds open to allow sunlight to filter into your home.
  • Melatonin: Some people find that a small dose of melatonin at bedtime helps relieve their symptoms.
  • Vitamin D: Some evidence has shown that SAD can be linked to low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is essential to healthy brain chemistry. Consider supplementing with 2,000 to 5,000 IU each day.
  • Spend time outdoors: Outdoor light is critical to circadian rhythms. Make a point of spending time outside each day.
  • Exercise: Physical exercise is a natural mood booster. It relieves stress and anxiety and releases endorphins that elevate mood. Exercise is critical for individuals who suffer from SAD.
  • Medication: If your symptoms are severe and you cannot find relief, your healthcare professional may prescribe antidepressants for you.

You may feel a little sad during the winter or you may in fact suffer from SAD. Regardless, it’s easy to slip into the winter blues. Taking a proactive stance and implementing some seasonal remedies can help. Consult a professional if you simply cannot lift yourself out of a depressive state or if you’re contemplating suicide. Help is available and no one should have to suffer through the winter blues alone.