Staving off those winter bluesAlthough winter is a season of many holidays and family get-togethers, it also brings with it very cold, dark days that cause some people to slip into a state of sadness.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Although winter is a season of many holidays and family get-togethers, it also brings with it very cold, dark days that cause some people to slip into a state of sadness.
Officially known as seasonal affective disorder, SAD is a form of depression that kicks in the same time every year. Although it sometimes affects people during the spring and summer, for most it comes around during fall and winter.
“The shortened days and the exposure to daylight being more limited often affect our brain chemicals in ways that result in the depressive symptoms,” said Dr. Jami Hoxmeier, a psychologist at Goodhue County Mental Health.
The severity of feeling sad this time of year varies from person to person and may not always be considered seasonal affective disorder.
“I’ve heard people talk about winter blues and sort of a sense of boredom or restlessness,” Hoxmeier said.
While winter blues may cause some to experience difficulty concentrating, oversleeping and loss of energy, those suffering from SAD get feelings of depression and hopelessness that impact everyday functions — sometimes often enough to think about suicide or turning to alcohol for comfort.
“People should check with their doctor about the symptoms, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like a medical condition,” Hoxmeier suggested.
Treating the winter blues
Sometimes feeling down during the winter months is caused by darker and shorter days, but other times it happens as a result of loneliness.
“People who are grieving different kinds of losses can then be more affected by holidays because those are generally family times,” explained Dr. David Asp, psychologist at Fairview Red Wing Medical Center.
Feelings of sadness have been known to decrease when people simply get active, even if it’s not through exercise.
“A lot of times it becomes important that people have some scheduled activities … to have some things that they look forward to,” Asp said. “There’s been some good research that indicates that increased activity levels help with both depression and anxiety.”
Making plans with friends on the weekends will ensure that loneliness won’t be a concern, and getting out is likely to help a person’s mood.
Avoiding SAD feelings
Simple activities can be beneficial to treating winter blues, or slight to moderate seasonal affective disorder, but if the symptoms get more prominent and nothing seems to help, take further steps.
“If you feel down for days at a time and you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor,” Mayo Clinic staff said.
People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder because of the lack of sunlight can take various steps to make their environment brighter. Opening shades and blinds, trimming tree branches that block sunlight and sitting closer to windows while at home or in the office are useful options. Light therapy can also be beneficial.
“There are lights available that people use during the day that they can be under that has been shown to be somewhat effective,” Asp said.
“Insurance companies sometimes are even paying” for the lights, Hoxmeier said.
Exposure to outdoor light is another alternative. Regardless of whether it’s a sunny or cloudy day, going for a walk and exercising outside can relieve stress, lift a person’s mood and increase energy levels.
Keep in mind that while it isn’t very helpful to sit home alone when experiencing symptoms of SAD, it also isn’t helpful to overcompensate and go overboard trying to fight a winter slump.
Try to view wintertime as a season that offers some time for self-reflection, relaxation and making plans for the future.