The Winter Blues Are Near: Seasonal Affective Disorder

The clocks were set back and although we gained an extra hour of rest, that extra sunlight can affect our moods more than we’d like.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD occurs in 5% of adults in the U.S. and lasts about 40% of the year. The disorder can cause symptoms of loneliness, depressed moods, changes in appetite, loss of interest or pleasure in once enjoyed activities, changes in sleep, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and trouble concentrating.

Many people attribute seasonal depression to the onset of the holiday seasons. In addition, the onset of the difficult-to-deal-with winter weather makes it harder to navigate daily duties.But there are more defined reasons than bad weather and the holiday doldrums to explain why our moods change during the colder months.

Physician Norman Rosenthal and his team at the National Institutes of Health unpacked the science behind our mood swings. They researched the ways in which light exposure affects our circadian rhythms, the physical, behavioral, and mental changes within our bodies that follow a daily cycle. Their research showed that a decrease in daylight exposure disrupts our circadian rhythms. This disruption then impacts the levels of neurotransmitters in our brain such as melatonin and serotonin.

In summary, the sun is like our biological clock. When our exposure to it changes the way our mood, hormones, and sleep is regulated also changes.

Given that the holidays are such an inconvenient time to experience SAD. I’ve listed some ways in which symptoms can be treated. Some suggestions are found from listed health professional organizations and some I’ve included from personal experience. Hope this helps you through the cold fall and winter months!

 

Ways to Manage SAD

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Therapy that helps patients identify and change behavioral patterns and thinking that are harmful and ineffective, also known as talk therapy

Light Therapy

  • A therapy in which provides a device containing white fluorescent light tubes with a plastic screen over it. The light intensity is 10,000 Lux and patients are expected to read or eat in front of the device within two to three feet from it

Preparation

  • Prepare for SAD in advance before the seasons change. If you’re someone who experiences SAD often you may want to start preparing for it before it comes. Maybe plan a trip to escape from the long nights. You could also consider SAD when building your schedule in the next months, taking more time out to relax and tend to self care needs rather than stretching yourself thin for the already busy months ahead.

Change of Environment

  • A mini vacation to somewhere with more sunlight and maybe even a warmer climate could be very helpful. However, that may not be the most feasible option. Instead consider changing your living space around to bring in the most light. Though spending time outdoors has always seemed like mood booster during these months it may be counterproductive. Instead maybe going to a local greenhouse and volunteering can reap similar benefits. Being around plants and nature is another scientific mood booster. One that can especially work during colder months.

 

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