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Does the winter season feel like it is just dragging on? Do you find that depression hits you during this time of the year? Are you just not yourself?
The winter blues can effect anyone. Psychologist have come up with a name and explanation of this. It is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—yes that is really the abbreviation. Here is what you need to know about this common disorder.
SAD is a form of depression. What sets this disorder apart from others is that it is influenced by the time of year. While it can happen anytime of the year, it is most common during the winter and fall seasons. This also tends to be a yearly occurrence that begins and ends at roughly the same time each year.
As previously stated, SAD is a form of depression. Depression causes feelings of hopelessness, a lack of energy or motivation, sleep difficulties, dramatic weight loss or gain, and difficulty concentrating. More extreme cases also may present thoughts of death and the risk of suicide. If this is the case for you or someone you know please seek professional help or contact the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
There are a number of factors that impact your mental well being including your sleep, environment, and body chemistry.
You most likely find that your regular sleep routine is disrupted by daylight savings and the shorter days of winter. Your biological clock, or circadian rhythm, is influenced by sunlight and a chemical in your body called melatonin. Melatonin is the chemical that is responsible for you feeling tired. It is usually released during darker hours, allowing you to sleep at night. With shorter, darker days melatonin is released more often accounting for the lack of energy and sleep disruptions during the winter season.
Vitamin D and serotonin also have an impact on mood and happiness. As we all know, our greatest source of Vitamin D is the sun. Less sunlight means that we get less of this essential vitamin. This can also account for weakened immune systems during this time of year. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with happiness. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for a wide variety of things, from movement to mood. Serotonin is released in times of joy. It is also released with exposer to sunlight.
Like many disorders, there is a higher risk of developing seasonal affective disorder if it runs in the family. You may also be at a higher risk if you have relatives with other forms of depression. If you already have been diagnosed with depression, it is possible that symptoms may worsen during these seasons.
If you believe that you or a loved one are suffering from seasonal affective disorder fear not—there are many forms of treatment and management.
Before attempting any treatment, it is recommended that you seek professional help. A psychologist can provide you with a proper diagnosis and suggest the best treatment for you.
Light therapy has proven to be one of the most effective tactics in treating SAD, given that its onset occurs during the fall or winter. In light therapy, also called phototherapy, the patient sits in front of a special light box within an hour of waking up everyday. The light mimics natural light and restores the chemical balance of the brain. This form of therapy can start working within days.
Antidepressants can also be effective in treating SAD. It is important to note that these medications may take weeks to start working and may cause adverse side effects. These should only be taken under the care of a psychiatrist.
Psychotherapy may also help with negative thoughts and feelings. There are many branches of psychology that psychologists follow in order to help their clients. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common therapies used for clients with depression. This type of therapy helps identify and change negative thoughts or behaviors that impact your mood. A psychologist can also give you suggestions on how to manage your stress and symptoms.
What You Can Do for Yourself
Some forms of seasonal affective disorder can be managed without the help of a professional or medications.
Make sure you are maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. Having enough vitamins is essential to overall health and well being. Exercise is also proven to boost mood by releasing endorphins. Doing these things will also keep your immune system strong during flu season.
Yoga and mindfulness also can help you focus on the present and drive away negative thoughts. Regular meditation can lower blood pressure, improve mood, and promote positive self-image. If you are new to this, there are plenty of resources online to help you get started. Here is a free website I have found useful.
Something I firmly believe in is that doing what you love is the best therapy. Art and music can help us express how we feel and allow us an escape from reality. As a musician, I found that playing my clarinet or listening to my favorite bands helps me cope with stress. Other people enjoy drawing or painting. Even if you don't view yourself as an artist, picking up a new hobby might be just what you need.
I wish you all the best and I hope this has helped! Stay strong!