Watch Out For Winter
Winter is coming! We know that means colder weather, staying indoors more often, and less sunlight but for many of us, that means mood changes similar to depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal affective disorder (referred to as SAD) is characterized by symptoms similar to depression usually occurring around seasonal changes (the DSM-5 currently refers to SAD as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern). SAD is most common during the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter, and usually improves with the arrival of the spring season. The most difficult months tend to be January and February, and SAD is more prevalent in regions farther away from the equator.
“Well, Julia, this just sounds like the normal winter blues,” you may think to yourself. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are more severe than the “winter blues.” These symptoms are overwhelming, distressing, and greatly impair ability to function on the day-to-day. These changes can impact our daily lives and overall well-being, including how we think, how we feel, how we act, and our ability to handle the responsibilities that come with life.
So, how do you know if you are experiencing SAD, you may ask? The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists several symptoms, including:
-Feeling sad or having depressed mood
-Lost of interest or pleasure in activities
-Changes in appetite (increased food consumption and craving of carbohydrates)
-Loss of energy or increased fatigue, despite normal sleeping patterns
-Increase in purposeless physical activity (inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing)
-Slowed movement or speech (must be significant in that this is observable to others)
-Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
-Difficulty concentrating or difficulty making decision
-Social withdrawal (feeling isolated or feeling like “hibernating”)
-Thoughts of death or suicide
Now that we know about SAD, a natural question is “what can we do for ourselves?” While it is true we unfortunately cannot make the sun stay out longer, fear not my friends, because there is hope!
Light therapy can be utilized in order to increase exposure to light that mimics natural sunshine. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that projects a very bright light for about 30 minutes daily. The light boxes are extremely bright (about 20 times more so than regular indoor lights!) but filter out any harmful UV rays. There are also lights sold by major retailers like Amazon and Target that have this same idea in mind.
Psychotherapy can be beneficial too. Talk therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) , helps to give skills to cope with difficult situations. This can be in an individual setting or a group setting. Here at Therapeutic Counseling and Consulting, we offer individual therapy and group therapy, in-person as well as virtually, if you or a loved one are in need. If you would like to schedule an appointment please click the link below and submit a client inquiry and someone will reach out to you.
In some cases, antidepressant medications can be useful. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used to enhance mood and lessen the severity of depressive symptoms. Medications and psychotherapy together yield the best outcomes.
What you can do at home
There’s more good news—there are some things you can do for yourself from the comfort of your own home. Spend some time outside or sit next to a window during work hours. The more vitamin D, the better! Exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule can not only help lessen the intensity of depression, but can even help prevent it. Lastly, get involved! Volunteer or spend time socializing with friends and loved ones. Social support is always important, but is even more so during hard times.
If you would like to know more about SAD and ways to protect your mental health during the winter months, you can refer to the websites listed below.
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health