The days are shorter, darker. Come late January, the winter months seem to lose the magic of that first snowfall and the cold air is now biting rather than crisp, leaving some of us cooped up inside, brooding.
The “winter blues” can be real. National Institutes of Health researchers have been studying this and a more severe type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, SAD, for years.
A NIH report explains that shorter days seem to be a main trigger for SAD. Reduced sunlight in fall and winter can disrupt your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This 24-hour “master clock” responds to cues in your surroundings, especially light and darkness. During the day, your brain sends signals to other parts of the body to help keep you awake and ready for action. At night, a tiny gland in the brain produces a chemical called melatonin, which helps you sleep. Shortened daylight hours in winter can alter this natural rhythm and lead to SAD in certain people.
SAD is a medical condition defined as a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in late fall and early winter and goes away during spring and summer. According to the NIH, to be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific reasons for at least two years.
Symptoms of SAD include having low energy, hypersomnia, overeating, weight gain, craving for carbohydrates and social withdrawal. There are four major types of treatment for SAD including medication, light therapy, psychotherapy and vitamin D.
If you are feeling any signs of depression, you should speak with your health care provider. For additional information on SAD, click here.
Less severe, the “winter blues,” can also take its toll on individual’s well-being. NIH experts relay that winter blues are more mild and will clear up on its own in a fairly short amount of time.
Self-care is important and making certain efforts can possibly help to beat the blahs associated with the winter blues.
- Go to a movie, take a walk, go ice-skating or do something you normally enjoy.
- Get out in the sunlight or brightly lit spaces, especially early in the day.
- Use a wake-up light that simulates the sun’s ray.
- Take advantage of Google-home or Alexa-enabled devices to brighten and dim your lights with smart bulbs. Check out the gentle sleep and wake feature.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Eat nutritious foods and avoid overloading on cookies and candies.
- Be patient. You won’t suddenly “snap out of” depression. Your mood will improve gradually.
Exercise can help—further research from Rush University, shows a strong exercise-mental health connection,particularly for those with depression and anxiety. Nature’s antidepressant, exercise, can increase serotonin and endorphins, which both affect mood.
If you have thoughts of suicide, get help right away. Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).