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Bye Bye Winter Blues: How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Kim Bertonica, RN

 

Do you struggle to get out of bed, feel no motivation to work and feel under the weather when the temperature drops? If all you want to do during the winter is sit in front of the television and eat, you may be suffering with a case of winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But, as it turns out, the worst thing you can do is stay indoors. So as we brace ourselves for cold weather, here are the best ways to brighten your day and overcome SAD during the winter.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD or Winter Depression, is thought to be caused by decreasing amounts of sunlight and colder temperatures. The term was first used in the mid-1980’s and occurs in 1-10% of adults in the US. The incidence of SAD increases in people living further from the equator and is about four times more common in women than men. People of all ages can develop SAD, and many experience serious bouts of depression during the winter months.

 

Symptoms of SAD vary from person to person but typically involve changes in appetite with food cravings for sweet or starchy foods. This in turn leads to winter weight gain. Other symptoms include restlessness, irritability, generalized anxiety, loss of energy, fatigue, headaches and social avoidance.

 

It is theorized that SAD is caused by the changes in the body’s chemical balance and internal clock based on the decrease in the amount of available sunlight or Vitamin D levels. Melatonin and Serotonin are two hormones that balance mood and regulate sleep patterns. During the colder months of the year these levels are decreased which in turn throw off the systems internal clock leading to sleep disruption. This lack of sleep leads to mood changes which eventually can exacerbate depression.

 

Treatment for SAD includes the following:

  1. Light Therapy– exposure to bright lights, twice a day for 30 minutes is an effective treatment. There are specially made light boxes which increase light exposure used for this purpose.
  2. Medication- If your Vitamin D level is low, as it is in many people who live in a colder climate, supplementation of this vitamin is helpful to combating SAD.  Antidepressant therapy may be appropriate for some people affected by this disorder.
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy- through short-term, goal-oriented therapy, people come to understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviors and change the patterns that lead to these behaviors. It is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders including depression and anxiety.
  4. Change of Scenery– sometimes a nice vacation to a sunnier climate may do the trick.