Seasonal Affective Disorder: Advice to Avoid Winter Blues

Older man suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) | http://themavinsgroup.comAs winter begins, temperatures drop and hours of daylight fade, it’s not uncommon for people to begin feeling sluggish, moody, or stuck in a funk. Those symptoms are typical of someone experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter. As many as 1 in 5 Americans have SAD, and 75 percent are women, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Symptoms include sleeping too much, overeating, loss of energy, social withdrawal, and difficulty concentrating. People in northern climates are more likely to experience SAD. While many people experience some elements of SAD, Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Mark Frye, MD, says you should seek professional help if your symptoms begin to affect your ability to perform at work or take a toll on your personal relationships. Seeking help is particularly important if you begin to feel hopeless or have thoughts of self-harm, he says.

Advice to Avoid Season Affective Disorder (SAD)

Dr. Frye offers these tips to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the winter:

  • Get outside. There is no substitute for natural light. If you work during the day, try to go for a walk during a break or lunch.
  • Boost your mood.  Use light therapy boxes to help boost your mood when you’re unable to get outdoors.
  • Get regular exercise: at least three times a week for 30 minutes.
  • Stay social. Interact with family and friends regularly.

What causes SAD? Sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood. Less light results in lower serotonin levels. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that causes SAD.

“There are many people who experience winter blues. However, there are those who are experiencing more serious symptoms,” says William Weggel, MD, a Mayo Clinic Health System psychiatrist who sees patients in Wisconsin. “The good news is that in most cases, we are able to find a treatment plan to help the patient through the winter months.”