Does the onset of winter make you feel as if someone has hit the dimmer switch on your happiness? Do you find yourself greeting the fall months with tears? Then, my friend it is likely that you are experiencing the winter blues. Winter blues or winter depression usually afflicts those who inhabit the northern climate. It goes by the clinical name of seasonal affective disorder or SAD and up to 5 % of the population (usually in the northern states) may be affected by it. Seasonal affective disorder is accompanied by feelings of sadness and depression that appear in the winter months when the temperatures drop and the days become short. When affected by this disorder you tend to binge or sleep more. The depression also accounts for weight gain and occurs at the same time every year. The rate of incidence of this disorder is two or three times more in women than in men.
Although many of us welcome winter as a refreshing change from the sultry summer, this is the season when some are beset with mild to major depression and mood swings. This seasonal affective disorder which has many people in low spirits during the winter is commonly known as winter blues syndrome. If you suffer from winter blues symptoms you will probably start feeling out of sorts around September and may not feel like your normal self until April. Some of the common symptoms of winter blues include:
- You may sleep more than usual but still not feel rested. You may face problems getting out of the bed and may need a nap in the afternoon.
- You may tend to binge. Yearning for carbohydrates may result in weight gain.
- It may become frustratingly difficult to carry out normal tasks. Life may seem fraught with negative feelings like despair, anxiety, guilt, depression and misery.
- It can also lead to several family or social problems. People with winter blues are often found to be avoiding company. They also tend to be irritable and more often than not, feel emotionally ‘numb. Winter blues can also be responsible for loss of libido.
- Winter blues may make you feel lethargic. Every task may appear tiresome.
- This disorder makes you less resistant to infections. It may induce joint pains or stomach problems.
- This condition may also be responsible for behavioral problems, particularly in young people.
The main cause of winter blues is hormonal imbalance that is induced by lower temperatures and lesser sunlight. Two hormones – serotonin and melatonin wreak havoc and are responsible for seasonal affective disorder. Serotonin refers to the activity hormone that energizes us and melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep.
- As serotonin is generated in light and daylight fades early in winter, there is a dip in the level of this hormone in the body. This also decreases the immunity level and makes us more susceptible to cold and flu.
- The diminishing daylight also accounts for an increase in the level of the melatonin hormone. It causes a feeling of exhaustion and depression which may last for a few days or the entire winter season.
- Besides hormonal imbalance, an increase in the level of pollution in the atmosphere causes frequent allergies aggravating the winter blues.
One of the best ways to combat winter blues is to use a dawn simulator. Dawn simulator refers to a technique that employs a light that comes slowly in the early morning to mimic a natural sunrise. Your body clock reacts to this stimulus by accelerating and reinforcing the waking up process so that you wake up before your eyes open.
In the winter season, you try to get up when it is still dark and your body is till generating melatonin, the sleep hormone, which is secreted in the absence of light. If the sunrise is imitated with an artificial dawn simulator an hour or half before waking up, the production of melatonin in your body is inhibited allowing you to wake up in a more natural, restful way. Dawn simulator for SAD helps to control and balance the secretion of the hormones serotonin and melatonin.
There are several other ways to beat the winter blues. The following are some ways to prevent the foggy days of winter from dragging down your disposition.
- Studies have revealed that a daily one-hour walk, in the middle of the day, can be as effective as light treatment in combating winter blues.
- Frequent outdoors in natural daylight, particularly at midday and on sunny days. Adorn your home with pale colors that reflect light from outside and sit near windows as often as possible.
- Nipping weather can also make you feel down in the dumps. Studies have revealed that staying warm can reduce the effect of winter blues by half. Don warm clothes and shoes and try to keep your home temperature between 18ºC and 21ºC.
- A healthy diet will improve your mood, have you up and going and stop you from putting on a few pounds over winter. Counter your yearning for carbohydrates such as pasta and potatoes by including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. Some people have also opined that intake of extra vitamin D can help lift your mood. Oily fishes and eggs are some of the good sources of Vitamin D.
- Light therapy has been found to be beneficial in up to 85% of the diagnosed cases. One way to avail of light therapy in winter is to sit in front of a light box for up to 2 hours every day. Light boxes emit very bright light that is at least 10 times more powerful than ordinary home and office lighting.
- Keeping your mind engaged with a new interest can do away with the symptoms of SAD. You can play bridge, sing, knit, join a gym, keep a journal or write a blog. You should have something to look forward to and concentrate on.
- Socializing has been found to be good for mental health and helps do away with winter blues. Try to keep in touch with people you care about and participate in social events. This will help boost up your spirits.
- Talking treatments like psychotherapy, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can help you tackle the symptoms.
- Contemplate joining a support group. Recounting your experience to others who know what it feels to have SAD is very therapeutic and can help make the situation more bearable.
So know that you know how to cope up with winter blues, smooth out the furrows in your forehead! It is time to take a chill pill!