As the days get shorter and the cold weather settles in, you might find yourself dealing with a case of the winter blues. It’s entirely normal to experience some sadness during the darker months, but for 5% of U.S. adults, it can take a more serious turn, leading to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into why it matters and what you can do to keep your mental health in check during the winter months.
Why Does It Matter?
Seasonal affective disorder, often abbreviated as SAD, is a genuine concern for many. The American Psychiatric Association points out that the reduction in light exposure during the winter season can alter the balance of essential brain chemicals like serotonin (which influences mood) and melatonin (crucial for sleep), and disrupt our body’s circadian rhythm.
A recent APA poll discovered that two-thirds of adults experience changes in their behavior when the seasons shift to winter. You might notice yourself sleeping more, feeling fatigued, or even experiencing bouts of depression. The key difference between the “winter blues” and full-blown SAD is the pervasiveness of sadness or depression, along with a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Signs to Watch Out For
If you find yourself sleeping or eating too much or too little, having difficulty concentrating, or experiencing thoughts of death, it could be a sign of SAD. The symptoms often overlap with those of major depressive disorder. For this reason, it’s crucial to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional to ensure you receive the appropriate treatment.
So What’s the Treatment Options?
There are several treatments available for SAD, and it’s essential to explore these options under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Treatment possibilities include medication, light therapy using a lightbox, music therapy and talk therapy.
The Importance of Sleep
One of the most critical aspects to pay attention to during the fall and winter months is your sleep. Mood disorders can lead to sleep disturbances, and a lack of sleep can exacerbate emotional challenges. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, is vital for good sleep hygiene. Going to bed and waking up at approximately the same times every day can help regulate your body’s internal clock.
Embrace the Outdoors
While the winter months might make you want to hibernate indoors, don’t underestimate the power of spending time in nature. Going for walks in natural settings can do wonders for alleviating the winter blues. This is especially important for those who commute in the dark and may not get enough exposure to the body clock-regulating sunlight.
For an extra boost to your mental health, consider taking a leisurely stroll among trees. Studies have shown that walking in the park can have a particularly positive impact on your mood. Perhaps it’s because we associate nature with a sense of calmness. Dr. Petros Levounis, the president of the APA, is even writing a book about nature therapy and emphasizes the benefits of “forest bathing.”
Bring the Outdoors In
Don’t limit your connection with nature to outdoor activities; consider bringing some greenery into your living space. Houseplants can genuinely lift your spirits and brighten up your surroundings, which can make a big difference during the gloomy winter months.
while it’s entirely normal to experience the winter blues, it’s essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Seeking a diagnosis from a healthcare professional is the first step towards finding the right treatment. Prioritize good sleep hygiene and consider spending time outdoors, especially among trees, to boost your mood.
And don’t forget to bring a bit of nature into your home with some houseplants. Your mental health is worth taking care of, even when the winter blues threaten to dampen your spirits.