In the midst of our long cold slog toward spring, you may be experiencing the winter blues. The winter blues, a term that can mean seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is defined by clinical psychologists and medical doctors in different ways. Some experts see the condition as purely psychological, while others believe depression is linked to inflammation in the body. The brain is complex and there’s a lot we don’t know, but there are some things we can infer based on available research:
- SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons; it begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
- If you have one bad winter and bounce back, you’re probably feeling the normal ups and downs of life. However, if you experience more severe symptoms of depression during the fall and winter months for two or more years in a row, you may want to ask your doctor about SAD.
- SAD symptoms to watch for are carbohydrate and sugar cravings, digestive problems, changes in appetite or weight, weight gain, trouble focusing, noticeable drop in energy, tendency to sleep a lot, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, persistent sadness, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts or attempts to harm yourself, lack of motivation, drop in energy, noticeable fatigue, and physical pains, including headaches and joint pains.
- Specific causes of SAD remain unknown, yet several factors may come into play, including your biological clock (circadian rhythm), serotonin levels, melatonin levels, family history, having major depression or bipolar disorder, and living far from the equator.
- If this sounds like you, please know it’s not your fault. People who don’t live with depression often think you can just decide to be happy. However, behind the scenes, there are brain chemicals and hormones that make you feel this way.
Help for SAD Sufferers
There are many ways to help you cope with SAD, like natural light therapy; artificial light therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy (AKA talk therapy); exercise; and supplements for brain support including vitamin D, SAM-e, 5-HTP, L-tryptophan, and St. John’s Wort.*
If the winter blues have got you down, reach out and ask for help from your health care provider, counselor, or therapist. There is light at the end of the tunnel—and you don’t have to wait until April to put the spring back in your step!
*If you are taking an anti-depressant, vitamins for depression, or other natural supplements for anxiety and depression, talk with your health care provider about what you are taking to avoid harmful drug interactions.
Blog by Melissa Laughlin Holtz, BS, SW-IT