People may joke about getting the winter blues, but the phenomenon of feeling sad, anxious, or tired during the winter months has a medically recognized name: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The most essential feature of this disorder is that the depressive symptoms occur at a certain time of year. Most often, it strikes during the winter months, when there's less sunlight and temperatures are colder, keeping people indoors more often.
To receive the official diagnosis, the onset and remission of the depression have to be seasonal, and depressive episodes during that season have to outnumber nonseasonal episodes. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Low energy
- Excessive sleeping
- Feeling anxious, sluggish, or depressed
- Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
SAD can disrupt your normal routine. Symptoms may last only a few months, but that might be all it takes to harm relationships, your career, or other aspects of life.
Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder
Luckily, there are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms and find the mental relief you need to make it through the dreary winter months. Here are a few proven methods for combating SAD.
- Light Therapy. The absence of light is one of the reasons people feel more depressed in the winter months, so it's no surprise that light therapy is one of the most common and effective treatment methods. This could mean purposefully taking walks during daylight hours, especially when it's sunny outside. You can also purchase specialized artificial lights for your home -- these are particularly effective if you use them in the morning.
- Vitamin D. You can consume Vitamin D through your diet, but you may not receive a high enough dose to be effective. Instead, consider purchasing a vitamin D supplement, or have your doctor prescribe a higher-concentrated version of vitamin D, such as 10,000 IU or 50,000 IU.
- Healthy Diet. Maintaining a healthy diet is critical for both physical and mental health. There's nothing wrong with indulging in comfort foods, but those items don't have to be packed with sugar or unhealthy fats. Pass on the cake and cookies, and consider a vegetable-packed salad or a hot bowl of soup to warm you up.
- Aerobic Exercise. When you're depressed, the last thing you may want to engage in is physical activity. But aerobic workouts -- particularly done outside in the sunshine or under bright light -- can have a positive impact on your mood, releasing endorphins to balance out the sadness and anxiety.
- Medications. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact they're having on your daily life, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you manage your symptoms. Most commonly, these will be antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
- Counseling. Sometimes, discussing your feelings and experiences with a professional therapist, a social worker, or a psychiatrist can help you get through these darker days. Therapy can also teach you to recognize triggers and adopt coping skills for anxiety and depression. Cognitive behavior therapy has, in particular, has shown promise in treating SAD.
Don't let the winter blues get you down this season. With these tips, you or your loved ones will be on their way to overcoming SAD and enjoying life no matter how dark or cold it might be outside.