winter

It’s almost time again to indulge in all manners of wonderful chilly-weather amenities. Promises of hot cocoa, spiced cider, home-baked goodies, time away from school and work, and delightfully tacky sweaters almost make permanent hoodie weather bearable.

Despite all the fun times and good cheer, winter can take an exceptionally harsh toll on our emotional well-being, even before the below-freezing temperatures and piles of ice and snow. If you feel moody and run-down, it could be the cold-weather blues creeping up to sap your energy and put a damper on your holiday celebrations.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that sneaks up every year around the same time and leaves those affected in a winter rut. It usually rears its ugly head early in the fall (and sometimes in spring), when the weather starts to wane and we typically spend more time in the cozy warmth of our homes. Adverse effects are likely due to a lack of natural light absorption and disruptions to the circadian rhythm, but some scientists also believe it may be an evolved response to hibernation that allows our bodies to guard against frigid temperatures and diet change.

If you are feeling a stubborn case of the blahs and don’t know why, here are some symptoms of SAD:

– Difficulty waking up and a tendency to oversleep

– Overeating (and not just during holidays!)

– Lack of energy and loss of motivation

– Trouble concentrating

– Withdrawal from social activities and interacting with friends and family (again, not just as a result of the holidays!)

– Other classic symptoms of depression, such as anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite

The good news is you don’t have to trudge through your funk until it disappears on its own, and it’s even possible to ward against it before it strikes. Treatment can be as easy as taking melatonin and vitamin D supplements to counteract lack of sunlight. It’s also a good idea to avoid keeping living space dim or dark while you’re awake. Some people benefit from phototherapy, or exposing yourself to bright lights during daytime. Studies show that maintaining a consistent light exposure according to the day and night cycles keeps your natural clock in sync and brightens your mood, especially if it’s often overcast or dreary weather outside. Regular exercise is always great for your body, but it’s especially effective at fighting against depression since physical activity gets the blood flowing and releases adrenaline and endorphins.

While self-diagnosis is an important step toward treatment for depression, it’s important to note that there are many factors to consider and self-treatment isn’t always effective. SAD can sometimes coincide with bipolar disorder or other variations of depression, so if you are ever feeling overwhelmed with hopelessness, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help.

Photo credit: Rachael Tulipano