In Western New York, we are smack dab in the middle of winter. Shorter days, cold temperatures, lack of sunlight, and the feeling of being stuck indoors, can make can make nearly anyone feel sad, restless, or depressed. If that’s not enough, sickness from flu and common colds is more prevalent, leading many of us to feel rundown.
Many people feel down in winter and write it off as a seasonal funk; however, sometimes it can be more serious like depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
What is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to the changing of the season, most likely starting in fall and lasting through the cold, dark winter months.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms generally start off as mild, beginning in later fall or early winter, and grow more severe as the cold weather continues. Initial mild symptoms frequently include oversleeping or sleeping in late, feeling tired or experiencing a loss in energy and changes to your appetite.
As symptoms progress many people will feel depressed much of the day, nearly every day. It also manifests in low energy and lose of interest in doing activities that were typically enjoyed. Additionally SAD can affect weight or appetite, ability to concentrate, feelings of hopelessness and, in some cases, can even lead to suicidal thoughts or even death.
Other complications can lead to social withdrawal, school or work issues or difficulties, mental health disorders, including anxiety and substance abuse. Other risks include: personal history with depression, family history of SAD or another form of depression, and living far from the equator (as this means short days in winter and long days in summer).
Things you can do to combat SAD:
- Take Vitamin D supplements. During the winter, your body can’t make enough Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D levels have been linked to anxiety and depression. You may need to take a supplement during the wintertime. Talk to your doctor about how much is right for you.
- Talk to Someone. Feeling blue? Reach out to a friend or family member. Sometimes just acknowledging your feelings and connecting to another person can help you feel better.
- Get Some Fresh Air. The last thing you might want to do when you can see your breath outside is to actually go outside. But even a 10-15 minute walk can help to brighten your mood.
- Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body–giving you a natural high. So even if you don’t feel like it, try to make yourself move at least 20 minutes a day.
- Limit Screen Time. There is a correlation between too much screen time and anxiety and depression. So, step away from your smart phone and try to limit yourself to one hour of screen time per day. What to do with all that extra time? Pick up a book! Reading can help you “escape” to somewhere new and exciting! Not into reading? Find a hobby such as drawing, coloring, pottery or even something like working on a puzzle.
- Make Plans. Having something to look forward to can make you instantly feel excited! So plan a trip or something as simple as a coffee date.
- Limit Alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. In the long term, it will not help you to feel better. It will make you feel worse.
- Get Adequate Sleep. Practice healthy sleep habits such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Limit light exposure during rest and leave your smart phones behind.
- Seek Professional Help. Sometimes SAD or depression cannot be overcome by yourself no matter how hard you try. If you are feeling depressed, talk to a professional who can help. Your doctor may prescribe you medication or refer you to a counselor or therapist. Know that you are not alone and that you don’t have to suffer.
If you or someone you know continues to struggle with SAD or depression, talk to your doctor or call the patient support specialist at Horizon at (716) 831-1800. Our team can help point you in the right direction to help you with any mental health challenge.