Suffering With A Case Of The Winter Blues?

In winter months, many people find themselves feeling depressed, physically unwell, or just generally out of sorts.  Some of this is the result of seasonal bugs that spread during the colder parts of the year.  Other times, it’s a malady known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short.  People with Seasonal Affective Disorder find that their moods take a sudden downswing when the weather turns foul and often don’t return to their ordinary cheery selves until spring weather sets in.  SAD is very common, with over 3 million cases diagnosed every year in the US, and it may be one of the reasons why people seem all-around miserable this time of year.

SAD can feel a lot like depression.  Its symptoms include constant tiredness, feeling hopeless about the future, irritability and difficulty concentrating, and food cravings/weight gain.  What differentiates SAD from traditional depression is the fact that it’s triggered by seasonal changes, and tends to go away when the weather changes.  What causes SAD is not completely clear, but doctors theorize that the disorder is brought on by physiological changes that occur when the weather changes, such as a disruption in serotonin and melatonin levels.  Women are more likely to experience symptoms than men, and young adults are at greater risk of SAD onset than older demographics.

The existence of SAD is disputed because its symptoms are so subjective. Though it’s often dismissed as a simple case of the “winter blues,” Ed Derr, Drury’s Director of Counseling, Disability Services and Testing, believes that there’s definitely something behind people feeling bummed out.  “During these times, especially in January and February, people are more depressed and have greater anxiety,” Derr explained.  “There are a lot of factors that go into that.  The winter is the time when it’s coldest and people get the least amount of sun, which means that they get less vitamin D and serotonin, and people can struggle with that combo.”

There are also psychological factors to consider. “After the holiday season passes, there’s not a lot to look forward to,” said Derr.  “People go back to school, and that adds stress to their lives with all the pressure of midterms, so it’s sort of a double whammy.”

So if you have SAD, what can you do to beat back the winter blues?  Derr offered several great tips to start feeling better.  “Get as much sunlight as possible, or exposure to artificial light,” Derr advised.  “Try to stay active – taking up a winter activity like skiing or snowboarding is a great way to feel better physically and mentally.  Eat healthy, and try to cut back on the alcohol.  Beyond that, try to set goals for yourself, mix up your daily routine, and be social.  People feel better when they help other people and interact with people they care about.”

Derr stressed the importance of being able to communicate one’s feelings.  “When people open up about how they’re feeling, they often find that others share those experiences, and that they’re not alone,” he said. “Share your feelings, and find reasons to celebrate the good things.”

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