It’s January. It’s cold and dreary. The anticipation and joy of the holidays have long passed. There is nothing bright about your spirit or the view of winter stretched out before you.
While it’s common to feel a sort of letdown after Christmas, even a bit of lethargy and a blah mood as winter looms ahead, the “winter blues” don’t typically hinder your day-to-day life.
“But if your winter blues start permeating all aspects of your life — from work to relationships — you may be facing SAD,” notes Rush University Medical Center. “SAD is more complicated than wanting to hunker down and stay in for the night. It’s more than simply cursing another blizzard. And it’s more than longing for those first days of spring.”
“It becomes a medical thing when it has consequences in people’s lives, like not being able to get to work or their quality of life going down the drain,” says Norman Rosenthal who along with his colleagues first described the condition in 1984.
Most psychiatrists cast the blame on a combination of factors:
- The lack of environmental light in the winter months. Short winter days find many people leaving for work while it’s still dark and driving home after the sun has gone down, resulting in much less exposure to natural light.
- Decreased levels of serotonin, the mood-regulating hormone.
- Increased levels of melatonin, the hormone that assists with sleep, that the brain produces when it gets dark.
SAD is rare, if existent at all, in the tropics and affects women at a rate four times higher than men. For the estimated 10 million Americans who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, there are many treatment options.
Bringing more light into one’s daily life is thought to be one of the best options. Getting outside to take advantage of what light winter does offer sounds simple but may be complicated by work schedules and the cold. Flipping the switch on all available lighting fixtures in the workplace and at home can help, but the most practical source of additional light may come from artificial light therapy via light boxes.
Rosenthal recommends choosing a surface of at least one-foot square and advises white light over blue.
Research continues to link exercise with overall mental health, labeling exercise as nature’s antidepressant, citing that moderate physical activity of at least 30 minutes most days of the week often provides a significant mood boost.
Strive for a healthy lifestyle that includes
- A regular sleep/wake schedule to help keep hormones in balance
- A structured meal pattern that majors on proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- A focus on not indulging in the sweets and carbs your mind/body may be craving
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