Winter Blues? It Could Be SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

woman looking through the window on a winter day.

Winter means shorter daylight hours, along with colder temperatures. While extremes depend upon what area of the country you live in, that change can be a bear for those craving longer, sunlit days to extend activities into the evening. Those “winter blues” can start to creep in early, with feelings of wanting to hibernate until spring. They can also make you feel cranky, moody, unfocused, and craving carbs.

If so, you could be suffering with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Mental Health America says that about five percent of the U.S. population experiences SAD’s symptoms. Women make up 75 percent of SAD sufferers, and most first experience it in early adulthood. SAD is believed to be caused by a disruption to the body’s biological clock, which controls sleep-wake patterns and circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle of physical and mental changes, from body temperature and functions, to hormones that control both growth and sexual development. Having less exposure to sunlight during winter months can sometimes trigger an imbalance in the body. Brain chemicals that transmit information between nerves, like serotonin (whose levels can drop due to reduced sunlight, affecting mood) and melatonin (which plays a role in both mood and sleep patterns), may be altered in people with SAD.

If you think you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

  • See your doctor to rule out conditions with similar symptoms (like thyroid problems). Talk about both family history and lifestyle.
  • Phototherapy (daily, bright light exposure at set periods via a light box with special, high-intensity white fluorescent light tubes that block UV rays) can help correct imbalances. However, phototherapy may not be recommended if you have diabetes, any eye conditions, or mental health issue. Meditation and relaxation techniques are also helpful. Sometimes medication or vitamin D is prescribed.
  • Come up for air, and take a break outside. Even if it’s cloudy, natural daylight will perk you up.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet of lean protein, veggies, and whole grains (with a regular-potency multi-vitamin) to give your body a base of what it needs. Doing so will also help you resist carbs, fats, and sweets (which you’ll crave less, if you’re eating right!).
  • Vary your exercises to avoid boredom. Work up to working out five days per week for 30 minutes daily.
  • Stay social, and maintain connections with supportive family and friends!

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

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