During the long winter months, many people struggle with depressed mood and you may have heard people call it “the winter blues.”
The medical term is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it's a type of depression associated with the fall and winter season.
Scientists and medical experts say the cause is from a lack of daylight hours during this time.
Less daylight is thought to affect our body’s natural serotonin production, which is a chemical in our brain that affects your mood.
The symptoms last for most of the season, and then resolve as the spring season comes around.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Feeling sad or depressed for most of the day, most days of the week
- Feeling lack of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
- Low energy, feeling fatigued
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite, specifically cravings for food higher in carbohydrates
So, what can we do when we are feeling down or depressed in the winter months?
Here are a few ideas that may help:
Increase exposure to sunlight
Spending time outdoors or near a window during the day may help to improve mood. If natural sunlight is not available to you, artificial light therapy may be an option. A special device called a light box is used to mimic natural sunlight and help improve symptoms.
Vitamin D supplements
Because our bodies are not exposed to as much sunlight during the winter months, our vitamin D level naturally decrease. Supplementing with a D vitamin can be helpful in terms of decreasing fatigue and improving mood.
Because Seasonal Affective Disorder can cause cravings for high carbohydrate or sugary foods, it’s important to prioritize adding healthy whole foods to your diet. Things like fruits, veggies, and whole grains can help to optimize nutrition and improve symptoms.
Daily exercise is an important mood booster. It is recommended that the average adult get 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week.
Talking to someone may help with coping mechanisms and learning new ways to manage stress and depressed mood.
Some people may experience symptoms that are severe enough to require antidepressant therapy. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be a candidate for medication treatment.
For more information about healthy lifestyle behaviors, please contact your local Intermountain Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness Center.