Seasonal Affective Disorder: Understanding the “Winter Blues”

Winter is upon us, and with it comes shorter days and colder weather. This season is known widely for its holidays, snow covered trees (depending on where you live), cozy nights by a fire, and other traditions. But winter is also a time where we see a rise in something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “Winter Blues”. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, with an additional 10-20% possibly suffering from a milder form. (3)

Throughout this blog, we want to help you understand Seasonal Affective Disorder and  give you some practical tips for taking care of yourself this winter.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression where the symptoms occur during a specific season of the year. Usually this season is during the Fall and Winter, with symptoms relieving during the Spring and Summer. (3)

The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder has not been confirmed, but there are several factors that are widely believed to contribute to the development of SAD. One of these factors is a reduced exposure to sunlight. Reduced exposure to sunlight affects our bodies in several ways: it disrupts the “internal clock” in our bodies and it can cause a drop is our Serotonin levels – both can impact on our mood and lead to feelings of depression. (2) Individuals who may have a higher risk for developing SAD include those who live far north or south of the equator and those with family history of other forms of depression. (3)

Everyone diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder may not experience the same symptoms, but the most common symptoms of the “winter blues” are:

  • Irritability or being easily agitated
  • Feeling depressed for large portions of the day – almost every day
  • Difficulty sleeping or other sleep problems, including oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicide ideation or thoughts of death
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Losing interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling tired or without energy
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Anxiety

 

Practical Tips for Taking Care of Yourself During the Winter Months

Self-care is an essential part of our lives during every season, but especially in the winter months when the “winter blues” can affect us. Let’s take a look at some practical ways you can care for yourself in the winter.

Experience the sunshine! A lack of sun exposure has been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so make it a goal to soak up as much sun as you can. You can do this by sitting near a window during the day or by bundling up and taking a short walk each day! (4)

Express Gratitude! Expressing gratitude helps us to notice the positive things. Research has shown that when we take time to notice things going right in our life, we are more happy and more energized. (1) A simple way to express gratitude can be starting a gratitude journal: grab a notebook and make it a goal to list at least three things each day that you’re grateful for!

Eat Healthy! When we’re feeling down, our reaction can be to grab our comfort foods and sometimes those comfort foods are filled with extra calories, sugar, and fat. Try to be creative with your food choices: substitute fruit for the cake you would usually grab (4), bring your lunch to work to reduce the temptation to eat fast food, or drink hot tea instead of hot chocolate when you’re craving a warm drink.

Spend Time With Others! Being socially connected creates a positive loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. (1) Consider planning a coffee date with a close friend, watching a movie or playing a game with your family, or snuggling with your pet. These activities can provide a way for you to talk about what you are going through or just to take a break from the stress and share laughs together.

Seek Professional Help! We never want you to feel alone when you’re affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you are struggling with feelings of depression, you may want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a licensed counselor or social worker. A mental health professional can help you explore and understand your emotions as well as work with you on finding a treatment process that works for you. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a member of our team, contact us through our website [Insert link: https://garrettcounseling.com/contact-us/ ] or by phone at (256) 239-5662.

*If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or go to your local emergency room.   

 

Resources:

  1. 3 Definitive Ways to Beat Winter Blues, Psychology Today: Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D.
  2. How Winter Affects your Mood, Strategic Psychology
  3. Seasonal Affective Disorder, Psychology Today
  4. Seasonal Affective Disorder, American Psychological Association

Prioritizing Your Health and Wellness This Winter, U.S. News: Neha Vyas, M.D.

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