What we sometimes hear referred to as the “winter blues” here at Community Reach Center, is in many cases a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, which generally has its onset when the days grow shorter in the fall, is characterized by a depressed mood that can last until the days start to lengthen in the spring. It is a form of depression that is more common in women than men, though the symptoms can be more severe in men. Young adults report a higher incidence of SAD than older adults.
The symptoms of SAD can include:
- Lack of energy
- Poor sleep
- Loss of interest in activities and relationships
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating
At Community Reach Center, we work with many people every year who suffer from SAD. The precise mechanism of the disorder is not yet known, but there are certain factors that are suspected to play a role, including:
Serotonin levels Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.
Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.Circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythmThe decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.
The decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.
A reduction in sunlight may disrupt the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood and sleep patterns.
What You Can Do
While any advice for beating SAD that you’ve received from your doctor or counselor should be your first priority, here are seven things you can do to fight it:
- Use a light box. These artificial lights mimic sunlight. Sitting in front of one for 30 minutes per day can, for some people, be as effective in treating SAD as taking medication. In addition to using a light box, you should also open curtains and blinds to let as much sunlight into your home as possible.
- Exercise. Getting regular exercise can help you beat SAD. And it doesn’t have to be a high intensity workout. For example, walking at a brisk pace for 30 to40 minutes per day five times a week or for 60 minutes per day three times per week can be very effective.
- Play upbeat music. Listening to cheery tunes can help elevate your mood both while the music is on and after.
- Get some fresh air. Being outside and exposed to more sunlight can help ease the symptoms of depression.
- Eat well. Eating a healthy diet including lean meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables, can help prevent SAD. It’s also a good idea to minimize or eliminate things like carbohydrates and candy from your diet as they can cause a mood spike and then a crash.
- Use a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is a device that gradually increases the light in your bedroom to mimic the rising of the sun. Some people find that it can decrease the symptoms of depression and make it easier to get out of bed.
- Plan a vacation. Even if the trip won’t take place until later in the year, the act of planning for and envisioning a fun getaway can help elevate your mood.
Taking Steps to Beat the Winter Blues
The tactics above are great ways to address SAD. However, if your depression doesn’t respond to them or your condition worsens, you should contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re here to help.