Beating the Winter Blues
By, Tina Opelt, FNP
With the cold and blustery weather, we have less sunlight each day, many people begin to grumble about what’s inevitably now here in full force…winter!
Although some strongly dislike the long winter months, for some it seriously affects their mood causing symptoms of seasonal depression also known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD.
Up to 5% of Americans over the age of 16 are affected and women are 4 times more likely than men to be diagnosed. If you have symptoms of clinical depression in a seasonal pattern – which completely go away as the season changes from winter to spring, and this has happens more than 2 winters in a row, it’s likely you have SAD.
Symptoms include feeling down, sad, hopeless, low energy, change in appetite and/or sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating, and feeling irritable or restless every day for more than 2 weeks in a row. SAD is believed to be related to climate, genetics or a combination of both. No specific latitude has been identified as the “cut off” but it seems to be more common the farther north you go – when there are fewer hours of daylight and the sunlight is less intense.
Treatment options include light therapy at home with a “light box” of 10,000 lux for up to 30 minutes in the morning. Many models exist and range in price from $40 to over $1,000. Improvement usually begins in 1-2 weeks and side effects are minimal.
Seeing a therapist is always a great option – especially when combined with light therapy. Medications that increase the serotonin levels in your brain are often effective and can be stopped in the spring. Many psychiatrists are now recommending higher doses of vitamin D in the winter months and suggest working to get your blood level to 60.
Regular exercise and managing stress are a critical part of every plan for achieving and maintaining good mental health! Talk to your health care provider right away if you feel you may have symptoms consistent with SAD. They’ll work with you to reach the right diagnosis and then decide which treatment options will work best for you.