Beating the Winter Blues

By Jenni Fisher DNP

Do the gray skies of winter make you feel blue? If so, you may be suffering from a temporary condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).​

sunshine
Do the gray skies of winter make you feel blue? If so, you may be suffering from a temporary condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

​Do the gray skies of winter make you feel blue?

Does your motivation slack when we turn the clocks back?

If so, you may be suffering from a temporary condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There are two main types of SAD. The most common type begins in the fall when the days get shorter and darker, continues through the winter, and goes away in the sunnier months of spring and summer. A less common type begins in the spring and goes away in the fall and winter.  Since we are in the middle of winter, I will discuss the Winter-type of SAD.

SAD may be caused by a lack of sunlight, which can disrupt the body’s internal clock. This can cause a decrease in the level of serotonin, an important brain chemical that regulates mood, appetite and overall well-being.

As the name cleverly implies, the most common symptom is feeling sad. Other symptoms include feeling hopeless, irritable, having low energy, or losing interest in things that usually bring you joy. Those with Winter SAD may sleep more than usual, crave sweet or starchy foods, and gain weight.  This can be even more problematic during the holidays, when you are already plagued with a long do-list and constant temptations — like your neighbor’s homemade fudge or cinnamon almonds at the mall.

Communicate your feeling and concerns with someone you trust.  Stress management techniques, socializing with friends or family, or taking a trip to sunnier climes may help. Try putting a timer on a bedside lamp, and schedule the light to turn on prior to rising. Adding Christmas lights both outside and inside can bring in extra light. Here are three other ideas to help make your own sunshine every day. The pneumonic GLAD is an easy way to remember them:

GLAD — Giving, Laughing, Asking Daily

  • GIVING service often takes our mind off our own situation and can provide a much needed feel-good boost. 
  • LAUGHING stretches our muscles in the face and body and increases oxygen to our tissues. It can boost the immune system, aid in sleep, and can play an important role in helping you feel better. Seek out a daily dose of YouTube videos, movies, sitcoms, joke books, cartoons, etc. that will make you laugh. 
  • ASKING for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and an important step in recovery. The quicker you recognize the depressive symptoms, and the faster you acknowledge them, the easier it will be to manage.

If you are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your ability to function, see your healthcare provider. Light therapy, medications or counseling may be needed. Of course, if you have suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming your self or others, please seek medical attention immediately.

If you find yourself getting into a funk each winter, you might have SAD. Just remember these things:

1) you are not alone, and

2) the condition will not last forever. The sun will shine again.