As the dark and dreary winter months continue, some may begin to experience symptoms of depression. Commonly called the ‘winter blues’, these symptoms can also be signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
According to Mental Health America, SAD affects half a million people every winter between September and April. The ‘winter blues’ is a milder form of SAD and is possibly even more widespread.
Reduced amount of sunlight in winter months has been linked as a cause for SAD and the winter blues. The sleep-related hormone, melatonin, which can cause depression and produces at increased levels in the dark, has also been linked.
Symptoms of SAD include depressed feelings, mood changes, anxiety, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating (particularly high starch/carbohydrate foods), social problems, and sexual problems.
The most common treatment for SAD is phototherapy, also known as bright light therapy. This involves exposure to light lamps as a way to counter the darkness of the winter months. However, for milder symptoms, spending more time outside during the day can be helpful. According to Mental Health America, one study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
Other tips to beat the winter blues include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and staying connected with social support systems.
If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, discuss your treatment options with your doctor and/or mental health professional.