The winter blues..and when it’s more
by Noelle Hebgen, APNP
Being from Southwest Wisconsin, most of us are all too familiar with the phrase “the winter blues.” It is common for many of us to feel “blah” during the winter months and to be completely over winter by the time February rolls around each year.
The winter solstice brings shorter days with less sunlight and more wintery, grey skies. It might surprise some that when the “blahs” become overwhelming or impact your life there could be something more going on that warrants taking action. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs with a seasonal pattern. SAD usually starts in the late fall, lasts through winter, and goes away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer months can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.
Those affected by SAD often feel sad, irritable, and may cry often. They may feel more tired and lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, sleep more than normal, lack energy, decrease their activity levels, withdraw from social situations– much like “hibernating”, crave carbohydrates and sugars, and tend to gain weight due to overeating. People who live farther from the equator are more often affected, as are those that have a personal or family history of depression. The disorder is more common in younger adults, and women are four times as likely as men to be affected.
There are several treatment options proven to effectively relieve the symptoms of SAD, including medications, talk therapy, light box therapy, and Vitamin D supplementation. It is always important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD or depression and to determine what treatment options would be best for you.
There are several things you can do on your own to help combat symptoms and have you feeling your best. These include:
- Eat a healthy diet: good ‘brain’ foods are low in saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. Limit your intake of red meats and processed sugary foods.
- Get regular exercise—preferably outdoors. As little as 10 minutes of physical exercise every day has benefits.
- Get enough sleep and practice good sleep habits.
- Connect with friends. To be safe, during COVID you would want to do this virtually.
- Try a new activity or hobby—do activities that make you happy.
- Volunteer or get involved with group activities.
- Limit alcohol intake: Alcohol is a natural depressant –so it is best to avoid it when you are feeling down or depressed. Alcohol can work against all of the positive progress you make exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep.
Most importantly, when you are struggling with depression, talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust. Reach out to your healthcare provider and people who are caring and positive in your life. Learn to be mindful of early warning signs that your depression may be worsening, and develop a plan on how to manage it if it does get worse.
If you would like to talk with mental health provider about your depression, call Southwest Behavioral Services at 608.348.3656.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment. doi: 10.1155/2015/178564
National Institute of Mental Health (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml