When the winter boots come out and the Christmas lights come on, do you start to feel like a different person? More sluggish, bored, or irritable than you want to be? Maybe it’s not just the cold weather that’s making you cranky. You might be suffering from seasonal depression.
The buzz and excitement during the first snow, a piping hot Tom and Jerry topped with fresh nutmeg, warm winter tights, and my grandma’s cookies are just a few of my favorite things about the winter months. I like to think that there’s something especially magical about the winter holidays in Wisconsin, a state with deeply-rooted traditions and hearty people who happily face the frigid temps with a smile.
Wintertime isn’t all carols, comfort food, and pretty lights for everyone, though. Seasonal affective disorder (aptly shortened to “SAD”) is a type of depression that occurs annually for many people. According to Mount Sinai Hospital, the causes for SAD are not well-understood at this time. However, it is thought that reduced exposure to sunlight, increased melatonin production (which increases in low-light environments), and low levels of serotonin may play a role.
Interestingly, geography also seems to play a large part in the prevalence of SAD. It seems that with greater distance from the equator, the risk of developing SAD becomes higher. For example, the incidence of SAD ranges from a low 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.9 percent in Alaska. Maybe Wisconsin isn’t the ideal place to spend the winter months, after all.
The signs and symptoms of SAD are quite similar to those of clinical depression or anxiety. If you feel like there is a “black cloud” over your head at all times, like you’d rather hibernate under the covers than face the day, then you might be living with SAD. Other signs include overeating, oversleeping, general feelings of hopelessness, and becoming withdrawn from friends or family. Thoughts of suicide are also possible in serious cases.
If you think you might be dealing with SAD, your first step should be to talk to a health professional. We know a few things here at GenTwenty, but nonetheless, we are not in the business of providing medical advice. Discussing your symptoms to your doctor will be the best way for you to get the help you deserve.
What that being said, I have dealt with SAD for several years and am qualified to at least provide some general tips for feeling like yourself again.
My favorite way to fight the depression monster is to get up and move. The natural high of endorphins helps to lift my spirits, as does the simple fact that I’m doing something positive for my body. If you’re able to do so without getting frostbite, I highly suggest exercising outside to take advantage of the sun’s rays for an added boost. A few minutes in the sun won’t magically cure you of SAD, but the cumulative result of multiple days outside has helped me to feel much better after being in a funk.
The most popular way to treat SAD is light therapy, or phototherapy, which might be the funniest looking way to receive therapy ever. You sit a few feet away from a box that emits bright light which is specially designed to mimic outdoor light. The idea behind light therapy is that the light replaces the lost exposure to sunlight in the winter months.
When used during certain hours of the day, it can also reset your circadian rhythm that might be thrown off by the shorter days. I haven’t personally tried this method, partially because I don’t know if my husband would be willing to allow a big glowing box in our apartment, but it is considered one of the best methods to treat SAD. You can order the light boxes online, but I suggest talking with your doctor first to make sure it’s a good treatment for you and that you get a reputable model.
Unfortunately, not just any bright glowing rectangle will do the trick. In fact, one of the best ways I’ve found to fight the winter blues is to turn off a few glowing rectangles (namely my phone, laptop, and television) to enjoy more offline activities. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the type to bemoan our generation for being too tech-dependent. I love my iPhone like it’s a family member, I usually sleep with my laptop right next to me in bed, and I can binge-watch an entire series on Netflix without a single regret.
However, losing an entire day to these glowing rectangles does make me feel kind of “blah” sometimes. I feel much better after spending some time on another hobby, like journaling, painting, or calling up a friend (as old fashioned as that may be). It really does help to mix it up and spend some time away from my favorite possessions.
My diet has a lot to do with how I feel in the winter months, as well. The holidays are chock full of home cooked goodness with enough butter to make Paula Deen proud. Unfortunately, comfort food is only good for the soul in small portions (for me, at least). I feel sluggish and lethargic after eating heavy meals, which only adds to the SAD symptoms I’m already experiencing. Keeping my meals light and sticking to fresh food as much as possible keeps that from happening.
Medication can be another effective way to curb seasonal depression, although there are many anti-depressants out there and they will each affect everyone differently. If you think you might want to give medication a try, talk to your doctor so you can figure out what might work for you. I have had a great experience with medication for depression, but it’s only one of many possible tools to start feeling like yourself again.
Feeling down in the dumps isn’t a fun way to spend the frosty months, but there are several possible methods to get control of SAD so you can enjoy the holidays.
Twenty-somethings, do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder? What helps you feel better?