As the weather is getting colder and colder, we can really feel winter is approaching. For some people this may mean wooly jackets, warm nights by the fireplace with a warm drink, and binge watching your favourite show. However, for some people this time of the year doesn’t bring those warm fuzzy feelings. In fact, they may feel the symptoms of depression such as hopeless, lacking energy, changes in sleep or appetite and a loss of pleasure in things they might enjoy - these are also signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as ‘SAD’ or ‘Winter Blues’.
As the name suggests, a person suffering from this will feel ‘sad’ during the colder months. As the weather gets colder, the days seem shorter and nights are longer, motivation to get out of bed can really be lacking. For a person with SAD these thoughts and feelings are intensified. Feeling heavy in their limbs, over-sleeping including not getting up with the alarm, craving carbohydrates nearly all the time, and having almost no interest in intimacy - these are some more of the symptoms someone with SAD has.
Reasons a person can be affected with SAD mainly involve the fact that there is less sunlight. Sunlight, basically, has an important role in regulating a part of the brain (the hypothalamus, to be specific) to function properly. In short, sunlight affects our hormones, however some people are more sensitive’ to this than others. Lack of sunlight during winter time can mean our bodies produce less melatonin (the sleep hormone). Less sun could also decrease serotonin ( our mood, appetite and sleep hormone). Also, our body-clock is affected with less sunlight, essentially throwing our body off during this time of the year.
So what can we do to reduce these symptoms?
Some things you can try include:
Melatonin supplements. As discussed earlier, your body may be lacking melatonin due to the decrease of sunlight during this time. Speak with your GP.
Light-therapy. Once again, as lack of sunlight is the issue - there are way to create ‘artificial’ light (not directly from the sun). Things like light-boxes or similar devices have been used to create a sunlight-like experience, once again, supporting in the production of melatonin and serotonin in the brain. Speak with your GP before.
Increase exercise and social interaction. Rug up and go for short walks with a friend. Exercise and social connectedness are both very important in treating symptoms of depression.
Chase sunshine. Literally… if you see sunshine outside - get out and follow it and stand or sit in it, even for short period at a time. If you don’t want to go outside, sit by a window and let the sunshine hit your body
Relaxation or mindfulness techniques. Try practicing some mindfulness for about 30 minutes a day
For further support with beating SAD or helping a loved one through these ‘Winter Blues’, give us a call to make an appointment with one of our team of Psychologists.