The Winter Blues
Have you ever felt particularly down in the winter months? Perhaps the last few months have felt particularly hard. This may not be a coincidence, it could be that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder (a.k.a winter depression, the winter blues, seasonal depression) is a kind of depressive disorder that is associated with the changing of the seasons. The season most commonly associated with SAD is winter. For some people, as the gloomy winter weather rolls in their mood changes to reflect it.
SAD is a type of major depressive disorder and carries some of the same symptoms. Such as feeling depressed, hopeless or worthless. People with SAD may also experience a lack of energy or interest in activates they used to enjoy. In most cases, symptoms appear at the end of autumn and in early winter. However, some people experience SAD during the spring or summer. Depending on the season that the individuals is affected, the symptoms can differ.
In winter and autumn months SAD symptoms can include;
- Trouble getting along with other people
- Weight Gain
Whilst in the summer and spring they may experience;
- Weight Loss
But what triggers SAD? It’s something as simple as light. As winter approaches, the days shorten and we receive less sunlight during the day. This messes with a few things in our bodies. The first is our circadian rhythm, also known as our biological clock, which can be thrown off by the change in light level and lead to a feeling of depression. The second is serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters in our brain that can affect mood. Serotonin levels can drop because of reduced sunlight. Finally, melatonin levels in our body can also be disrupted by the changing light levels. Melatonin plays a role in our sleeping pattern and mood.
The people who experience SAD in the summer months, where the days are longer, have their symptoms triggered by more sunlight instead less. As a result, they tend to experience symptoms that are the opposite of the those produced by the darker winter months.
There are some treatments available for sufferers of SAD. One of the more popular treatments is light therapy. Patients use a bright light therapy box to simulate the natural light from the outdoors. This helps correct the imbalance of brain chemicals that can cause SAD. These boxes are safe and easy to use. Patients may also benefit from the use of antidepressants if recommended by their doctor. Another approach to treatment, is psychotherapy, where patients work to manage their SAD and help control the negative thoughts and anxiety associated with it.
People affected by SAD can also make some lifestyle changes to help lessen its impact. Simple changes, like opening curtains around the house to brighten up the living environment and sitting closer to windows during the day, can help reduce the affect SAD has. Getting outside can also help, especially regular exercise which can help relieve anxiety and can help you feel better about yourself.
As with all forms of depression, if you feel like you may be affected, it is important to seek help. Visit your local GP, they have knowledge and experience that can help manage or overcome depression.