Do the cold, gray days of winter get you down?
If you just can’t resist your bed’s gravitational pull or that box of powdered donuts, it might be more serious than the winter blues. You could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. A form of depression, SAD affects 4 to 6 percent of the population. Another 10 to 20 percent endure a milder form of the disorder. SAD is more likely to be diagnosed in women.
In addition to starch cravings and fatigue, symptoms include irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, social isolation, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, hopelessness, and headaches. Waning sunlight is most likely the leading cause of SAD. It affects regulation of serotonin, a mood-balancing neurotransmitter, and increases production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
The good news is that, like major depression, SAD is real and treatable. In addition to talk therapy and medication, you may also be prescribed light therapy. This can include a light box and/or specialized room lighting. Good old-fashioned daylight helps, too.
The following strategies can help keep your insides sunny when the temperature drops, and the days are shorter:
- Strengthen the basics: Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, and maintain a regular schedule to optimize your physical and mental health.
- Stay connected: Reach out to friends and coworkers to ward off feeling isolated or lonely.
- Manage stress: This can include seeing a therapist who can help you create an action plan for winter’s arrival to keep your symptoms from worsening.
- Plan a trip: A winter getaway to a warmer climate can give you something to look forward to—and radiate happy memories once you return.