While sunny skies, warmer days and balmy breezes are on the horizon, for the 3 million people who suffer from seasonal depression, what lies ahead is a seemingly endless stretch of cold and gray.
People with the “winter blues” experience many of the same symptoms as those suffering from depression. That includes having less energy, trouble concentrating, fatigue, a feeling of hopelessness, weight gain and an increased desire to be alone.
Seasonal depression usually starts in young adulthood. A mild form affects about 10 to 20% of the population, while a more severe form affects about 5%. Approximately 75% of those affected are women, and it’s more common in cold climates. Interestingly, some people suffer from seasonal depression in the summer, but that’s much more unusual.
While researchers are not certain of the cause of seasonal depression, one theory is that a decrease in sunlight disrupts the body’s internal clock. Another theory is that reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. It’s also thought that the change in seasons can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which also plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Even though they’re not certain of the cause, researchers agree on the steps to beat the wintertime blues.
For many people, lifestyle changes are enough to raise their spirits until spring. One of the best things to do is simply make the most of the sun. We certainly have our share of gray days in northern Ohio this time of year, but the sun does peek through occasionally. Take advantage of those times by going for a brisk winter walk or curling up with a good book next to a sunny window. Even when the sun isn’t shining, outdoor exercise has been shown to improve one’s mood.
Which leads to the next lifestyle change. If it’s too cold to walk or jog outside, regular exercise—even on a treadmill—can help relieve stress and anxiety. Plus, being fit can help boost self-esteem.
One of the most commonly recommended treatments for seasonal depression is light therapy. Light therapy boxes work by mimicking outdoor light, which is thought to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression. While you can buy them without a prescription, your doctor can help you find the right light box for you. In general, they should produce at least 10,000 lux of light and emit as little UV light as possible. They should be used for 20 to 30 minutes each morning, within an hour of waking up.
When lifestyle changes, light therapy and winter mood boosters don’t help, it’s time to explore the same treatment options you would for regular depression—behavioral therapies or even medication.
The good news is that seasonal depression is one of the most treatable forms of depression, and you can beat the blues faster with expert help. Contact Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health at 419-668-0311 to schedule an appointment. As always, seek help immediately if you—or someone you know—is experiencing suicidal thoughts.