It's normal to experience some "winter blues" in the darker months: many of us feel tired, sleepy, and hungry all the time. However, for some people the problem is very serious – so serious that it is classified as a separate disorder
When winter blues gets badSAD, or seasonal affective disorder, was first identified as a separate psychological issue circa 30 years ago. According to statistics, 5% of people suffer from a serious form of SAD that disrupts their daily activities and can even drive one to suidide, and 15% have its mild form – nothing life-threatening but very unpleasant none the less (more statistics here). Normally SAD occurs in winter (though some people suffer in summer), and its symptoms include:
- Fatigue, lack of desire to do anything
- Absence of interest in social activities, going out, etc.
- Sadness, sometimes suicidal thoughts
- Heightened emotional sensitivity
- Sleepiness, lethargy
- Constant snacking, binge eating, cravings for sweets, cakes, and junk food
- Lack of focus
- Low libido.
Is daylight the culprit?SAD is traditionally associated with the lack of sunlight in winter, but the actual mechanismj is unclear:
- One version is that seasonal depression is caused by the disbalance in the hormone melatonin, produced by the pineal gland; this hormone regulates our rhythms of wakefulness and sleep.
- Another idea is that daylight deficiency reduces the production of neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Yet another hypothesis states that it’s the lack of vitamin D that causes depression.
Alleviating the symptomsIf you feel depressed and sad in winter, there are a few things you can do:
- Spend as much time as possible outside, do winter sports;
- Work next to a window;
- Use a light box – it’s a special light therapy device that imitates sunlight but without the harmful UV rays; you need to use it for circa an hour a day.
- Reserve some pleasant experience for winter – a tropical vacation, going to the movies and restaurants you like most;
- Spend time in brightly lit, cheerful places, such as cafes;
- Choose cheerful light fixtures for your home, stick to bright and light colors in interior design.
For those with serious SADIf your symptoms are really bad – that is, if you suffer from a major depresion disorder that is expressed seasonally – then you will need much more that going skiing or to a cafe. Common therapy includes:
- Antidepressants, such as Prozac;
- Light therapy – using devices described above but with a higher level of light emitted (more on treatment here);
- Cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you feel low and tired in winter, don’t get too concerned: remember, it is quite common. However, the important thing is not to give in to sadness and fatigue. Be active, go out, do sports, leave for a vacation, turn on some nice lights at home – and fight off the winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – PsychologyToday.com
Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches -Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder: a review Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov