Many of us experience a change in mood during the winter months, especially those of us in regions marked by cold temperatures and a lack of sunlight. With the holidays behind us and perhaps little to look forward to, the winter blues can easily set in.
While nearly one in four people experience such blues, more serious symptoms can indicate Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).
S.A.D. affects an average of 5 percent of the population with higher rates in cold-weather states. Generally beginning in the early 20s, S.A.D. is three to four times more common in women. Singles, already at higher risk for general depression, may be especially prone to S.A.D.
What are the symptoms of S.A.D.?
- Sad or depressed mood
- Decreased interest in activities
- Sleeping more or less
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of guilt
- Persistent negative thoughts
How do I know if I have S.A.D.?
If a majority of such symptoms are persistent and only present in winter months, a diagnosis of S.A.D. can be made. (Note that you may have such symptoms consistently or at other times, which could indicate a general depressive disorder.)
What can I do about it?
Whether it is just the winter blues or S.A.D., there are some measures to take to lessen the impact.
First, recognize going into the winter months that certain changes may occur and prepare to adjust (as opposed to becoming frustrated).
- Exercise on a regular basis, outdoors if possible. This may be difficult, but it is crucial.
- Healthy diet, including whole grain, lean protein and fruits. Avoid the heavy carbs!
- Vitamin supplements, especially vitamin D, which is often depleted with lack of sunshine
- Soak in some rays – while not always possible, try to get 15-20 minutes of sun exposure each day.
- Break up your routine: Take up a new hobby or interest simply for a change.
- Consider a trip – the warmer the better.
- Reach out to an old friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while.
- Alter your prayer/spiritual life to develop more intimacy with God. Try changing the manner and time of your prayer, spiritual reading, or volunteering time to help the needy.
If symptoms are serious or linger, consider*:
Light boxes. In some studies just as effective as antidepressants.
Counseling. It usually helps to talk, especially if there are compounding life issues bothering you.
Medication. Work through your concerns and consider this option, as it has benefitted millions of people.
* Please consult your physician before beginning any of the above regiments.