The winter blues are a real thing. Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. It usually starts in the fall and continues into the winter months. In a given year, about 5 percent of the U.S. population will report symptoms of seasonal depression. Seasonal depression is more common in women than men. The main onset of seasonal depression is between 20 and 30 years of age but it can happen earlier. It is also more common in people who live in northern climates.
Typical symptoms of seasonal depression include loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, diminished interest in activities, low tolerance for stress, extreme mood swings, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, avoidance of social contact, and loss of libido.
There are several theories about what causes seasonal depression. One theory is that it is caused by a lack of sunlight. Sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which is essential for our mood. Another theory is that changing seasons can disrupt our body’s natural circadian rhythms. It’s certainly no surprise that this time of year brings a lot of stressors into our lives, and people can feel lonely and isolated on top of it all.
Even if we don’t know why the winter blues come this time of year, the good news is that you can do things to ease your symptoms and beat seasonal depression.
Here are a few tips:
- Get outside: Spend time in the sunlight, even if it’s just for a few minutes. This can help improve your mood and boost your energy levels. One option is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special light box for 30 minutes daily.
- Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. A moderate amount of activity is the key to maintaining your mental health.
- Connect with others: Isolation can worsen seasonal affective disorder symptoms. It can be a vicious cycle where we feel cut off but don’t want to reach out, and the process spins on. Make an effort to talk to friends or professionals.
- Practice gratitude: Studies have shown that gratitude can have a powerful effect on your well-being. It can improve your physical health, mental health, and overall satisfaction with life. Reflect on the things you’re grateful for, no matter how small.
- Another option is an antidepressant medication. If you think you might be suffering from seasonal depression, talk to your doctor. I know lots of people don’t want to take medication, and there is certainly no “happy pill” but medication may alleviate a lot of your symptoms.