SAD - Time to Talk About the Winter Blues

Jan 14, 2019

Well its January. Christmas is over and the credit card statements start to roll in. You may have eaten too many dainties and just do not have the energy to try and work them off. And when it is minus 30 outside and your car doesn't want to start, how are you supposed to get out of bed. If you do get out of bed you are likely going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. January 21, 2019 (the third Monday of every year) is labeled as blue Monday, the saddest day of the year or the day when you are most likely to be miserable. January is one of the highest months for deaths, break ups, bankruptcies and depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is correlated with changing in the seasons. Most people with SAD notice symptoms appear in the late fall and continue into the winter months. While exciting times like Black Friday, a holiday staff party or seeing a long-lost friend at Christmas may temporarily keep the symptoms of SAD at bay, it sucks up your energy and makes you feel moody. Some may experience SAD in the summer months, but this is rare. SAD is more prevalent in women and younger adult populations. There is increased risk with a positive family history of SAD. Unfortunately, those who have a history of bipolar disorder or other bouts of clinical depression are at greater risk of SAD.

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, but many educated theories exist, most based on changes in the amount of light we are exposed to. Your circadian rhythm, more commonly known as your biological clock is disrupted with decreased exposure to light, leading to feelings of depression. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might also play a role in triggering feelings of depression. Decreased exposure to light also can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. We live quite far from the equator and that increases our risk for SAD. Again, experts link this links back to the decreased amount of sunlight in our dark winter months.

Signs and symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed for most of the day, for most days. You may have declined interest in activities you usually enjoy along with feelings of low energy or sluggishness. Feelings of tiredness may accompany trouble sleeping or oversleeping. SAD can mess with your appetite increasing cravings of foods high in carbohydrates. Agitation or anxiety in your personality maybe noticed by others.

It is normal to have some days when you feel down, especially in the wintertime. However, if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. If your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, alcohol becomes a method for comfort or relaxation, or you begin to have hopeless feelings its time to get help. If you need someone to talk to your pharmacist is always there to help.

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and therapy sessions at the advice of a health care professional. In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you're exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to a few weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms. The DCP carries light therapy machines in various sizes.

Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year and you may continue to take the antidepressant beyond the time your symptoms normally go away. Remember antidepressants often take several weeks to notice full benefits from the medication. You may also have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you.

Whether your SAD is mild or moderate you can also Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse. Therapy with a professional can help facilitate this. Learning healthy ways to cope with SAD, especially with reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling activities that make you feel better is extremely important. You might also want to try new activities like yoga, group exercise like spin classes or just get outside. The bonus of outside activities likes snowshoeing, skiing and ice fishing is that you get to soak up extra sunlight. Brightening your house by letting in more natural light during the day or using artificial light can help. If you are feeling the winter blues let the light in and make sure you always share your feelings with someone else because its always ok to talk about mental health.


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