Winter is here! And as the song goes, “Baby, it’s cold outside!”
Winter is a complicated season. It arrives with cold winds and bleak landscapes, yet there is unparalleled beauty in falling snowflakes and sparkling ice crystals. For some people, winter brings out feelings of sadness, anxiety, and despair and these moody emotions are often labeled as the “winter blues.”
It’s easy to feel gloomy when it’s cold outside. But it’s important to note that those who experience the winter blues on a more intense level may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of seasonal depression that usually starts in the fall as the days get shorter and there is less sunlight. It is estimated to affect 10 million Americans and symptoms can range from lethargy and irritability to more serious indicators such as sleep problems and depression.
What Causes SAD?
No one has identified the specific cause of SAD, but it affects more women than men, touches all age groups, and may have a genetic component. Those at risk often live far from the equator - for example, 1% of those who live in Florida and 9% of those who live in Alaska experience SAD.
Lower levels of sunlight during winter may affect an individual’s biological clock and this can cause feelings of depression. Less sunlight can also lead to reduced serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) and this may trigger SAD.
How to Combat SAD
Don’t ignore signs of seasonal depression. Shirley Burton, MS, LCPC of The Psychology Center, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois, emphasizes the importance of recognizing symptoms of SAD in yourself (or others) and taking steps to heal your body and mind.
If you think you may be experiencing SAD, or perhaps the cold weather is getting you down, here are 5 ways to combat those negative feelings and get back on the happy track:
Stay active – it’s been proven that exercise releases endorphins and these brain chemicals produce a natural high. This organic euphoria can help stem the symptoms of SAD, and is a great reason not to park yourself on the couch permanently when winter comes around. Keep active with regular exercise - taking a long walk during daylight hours can be especially effective in maintaining a positive attitude.
Be Social - make an effort to spend time with family and friends and nurture your social networks. Being around other people is good for your mental health and can ward off feelings of sadness and isolation. Get out and about as often as you can – it will improve your overall outlook on life.
Eat well - this doesn’t mean you need to go on a diet! Develop a healthy eating routine and pick simple, nutritious foods that will keep you energized and satisfied throughout the day. A warm soup or a cup of hot chocolate can be delightful on a cold winter day.
Light therapy - according to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA), light therapy has proven to be effective in up to 85% of people diagnosed with SAD. Using light boxes and dawn simulators can provide relief - a light box mimics outdoor light while dawn simulators replicate the changes in light of a natural sunrise. Ask your doctor for advice to ensure you get the correct light therapy treatment for your symptoms.
Get help - if your winter blues or SAD symptoms become severe enough that it limits normal functioning, please seek help. You can talk to your doctor or seek advice from a counselor or health specialist. There are numerous treatments for seasonal depression and professionals who can assist with recovery, so reach out if you need help.
SAD is all too real. However, there are real ways to combat the winter blues and resources at your disposal to help even the worst cases.
Author: Christine Gatuiria, freelance writer and Founder at www.funeralcreative.com.