What to do About the Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Living in Nebraska, it is a blessing to experience the changing of the seasons. During the fall, watching the leaves turn from their lush green to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges is certainly a sight to see and one which many relish this time of year. With the change in scenery comes change in outdoor temperatures, less sunlight, shorter days, and the dreaded “winter blues” often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood condition influenced by the changes in seasons. SAD is typically linked to fall and winter months but can even be correlated with warmer months like spring and summer. SAD affects roughly 6% of the population and is more prevalent in regions that receive less daylight hours during the winter so states further away from the equator. Women tend to be affected four times more often than men and individuals with depression typically see their symptoms worsen during the winter months.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have experienced some of the symptoms below and have recognized a pattern in the winter months, it could be related to SAD. Commons symptoms include: 

  • Feeling depressed or having a low mood most the day 
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless 
  • Tearfulness 
  • Feeling anxious or overly worried 
  • Losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed 
  • Sleep difficulties (too much or too little) 
  • Changes in appetite with weight gain or weight loss 
  • Fatigued 
  • Social isolation 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Causes of SAD

While we may not know the exact cause of SAD, research has identified biological clues pointing to brain chemicals, hormone levels, and vitamin deficiencies as influential factors. During the winter months people tend to have lower levels of serotonin, those feel good chemicals, in the brain and with shorter days, the hormone melatonin increases resulting in more lethargic and sleepiness. Another possible factor contributing to SAD is low levels of Vitamin D.

Treatment

The good news is that people do not need to suffer during the winter months because there is effective treatment available to reduce the symptoms of SAD. One of the most common ways to improve symptoms is light therapy, or phototherapy. Light therapy involves sitting near a light box which reproduces natural outdoor light similar to the light the sun provides during the warmer months. Light therapy works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain making us feel better and happier. Light boxes can be purchased at various commercial and specialty businesses, as well as online, and range in price from $40–600. Medication is another option to treat SAD and alleviate symptoms but research shows that most people find lasting results through psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Through approaches like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, trained professional focus on the individual’s thought processes and in the development of effective coping mechanisms.

Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder 

The good news is that there are preventative measures people can take to reduce their symptoms. These include:

  • Try to spend as much time as possible outdoors each day, even on cloudy days
  • Considering purchasing a light box and use it daily through the winter months
  • Open the curtains at home to let in a much natural light as possible
  • Engage in physical activity at least 5 days per week
  • Remain socially active
  • Eat healthy food
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Seek support from a mental health professional

If you or anyone you know may be experiencing the “winter blues” it’s worth exploring the various treatment options available to find relief. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated effectively with psychotherapy and Senior Life Solutions can help. Contact us for more information.

  1. Good Therapy (n.d.). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/seasonal-affective-disorder2.NIMH (2016 March)
  2. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml