Weekly Feature

seasonal affect disorder, winter blues

Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

December 08, 2009
by Lindsey Chapman
A cold, gray winter can make people feel a bit gloomy. But how can you tell whether you have the winter blues, or something more serious?

More Than Just Gloom?

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For some people, the fall and winter months offer the excitement of a white Christmas, cheerful festivals, hours on the ski slopes, and a perfect excuse to curl up under a blanket with a good book.

But for others, the season is just plain dreadful.

Fall and winter can bring on a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects 20 percent of the people in the United States.
 
According to FamilyDoctor.org, up to 500,000 people in the country could have winter-onset depression, which is the most common form of SAD. 

SAD patients “have real difficulty motivating themselves to do ordinary things, even taking care of themselves and those they are responsible for,” Anie Kalayjian, a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association, told USA Today.

People with SAD tend to sleep several hours a day more than usual in winter, feel lethargic and overeat. “Your body sort of wants to shut down, go into this sort of like fatigue, tired, rest mode, subjectively that can seem like you’re very depressed,” Dr. Mark Doerner, a psychologist, explained to KFYR.

These symptoms are most often detected in women, but there may be an explanation for that. “Women tend to express themselves more—they don’t have the societal hang-ups that say ‘Oh, I can’t talk about this,’” Kalayjian said. “Men tend to rely more on things like drinking, or they become aggressive, or cover it up.”

Distinguishing SAD from normal depression can be difficult. Those who have a hard time during winter months—or in any particular season—should consider how they felt during that season in years prior, or think about whether they felt better in opposing seasons like summer versus winter. 

Psychotherapist Dr. Lewis Weber told WCAV that individuals who believe they may have SAD should obtain a medical diagnosis for their condition, and not try to diagnose themselves.

Beating the Blues

In many instances, SAD is best treated in a cheap and simple way: light therapy. In 2003, a study reported that patients’ moods benefited from exposure to bright light, according to USA Today.

Placing your desk by the window at work and taking a walk at lunch can help a person boost their exposure to natural light. If this isn’t convenient, sitting in front of a light box may also be helpful.

Dietary changes can also make a difference. Studies have connected depression with low levels of folic acid. Susan Del Gobbo, a clinical nutritionist with the UVa Health System, told WCAV that eating at least three meals a week of coldwater fish and increasing your consumption of dark green, leafy vegetables could alleviate symptoms. 

Other ways to cheer yourself up include scheduling outings with friends and family, exercising regularly and vacationing in a warm climate.

Mental Health Resources

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