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Are the Winter Blues Affecting You?

winter blues

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seasonal affective disorder

The winter blues are common. Like many Minnesotans, the winter months can be challenging for a variety of reasons (i.e. snow, the cold, ice and did we mention the COLD?!). Despite the weather, it can also be challenging mentally with the colder, darker days of winter. You may find yourself feeling sluggish, tired and just down overall. Instead of brushing off your winter blues, it is our goal to educate you on why you may be feeling SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder; and provide you the action steps to keep your mood and motivation up this winter season.

Why you may be feeling SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to Kyja Stygard, M.D., author of the article Seasonal affective disorder explained, “seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a variation in mood relating to the season and considered a form of depression”. Although the specific cause of SAD is unknown, there are several factors that could contribute to the onset of SAD. The first being, that the further away from the equator you reside (aka Minnesota), the more likely you are to experience level drops in serotonin due to the reduced light within the winter months. Serotonin is a chemical within the body that contributes to the wellbeing and happiness in the human body. Additionally, the decrease in sunlight can disrupt the body’s internal clock  (circadian rhythm) impacting the ability to maintain one’s daily routine. The darker days can also impact the body’s level of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep onset. When we experience a decrease in or melatonin levels, we often struggle with getting a good night sleep. And when our sleep is affected along with or daily routine and decreased serotonin levels, our body’s ability to function at its normal level may be impacted. Essentially the biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter months impact the body’s ability to function.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD may include:

For many Minnesotans experiencing SAD, it occurs at the same time every year, beginning to end. Typically, symptoms will appear around the late fall/ beginning of winter months and subside during the sunnier days of spring (Mayo Clinical Staff, 2017). Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses (Mayo Clinical Staff, 2017). Below is a complied list of symptoms someone dealing with SAD may experience:

  • Mood changes (irritable)
  • Fatigue and lower energy levels
  • Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Sleep changes (oversleeping)
  • Changes in appetite and weight (carb craving and weight gain)

Treatment

 The good news is there are action steps you can do to reduce SAD symptoms and increase your mood and motivation. Below is a compiled list of a few things that can help combat the effects of SAD:

  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Exercise (aerobic)
  • Getting quality sleep (AVOID napping and technology before bed)
  • Light therapy (light box with 10,000 LUX for 30-60 minutes daily, best used in the morning and at the same time every day)
  • Prescribed medication to increase serotonin levels
  • Talk to a therapist
  • See your doctor

It is normal to experience down days; however, when they become persistent and affect your day to day functioning, it becomes important to see a doctor in order to determine the right treatment plan for you.

Article Written by: Sarah Sandvik, LSW MSW Clinical Intern

References

Stygar, K. (2018). Seasonal Affective Disorder Explained. Found online at https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/seasonal-affective-disorder-explained

Mayo Clinical Staff (2017). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Found online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

McIntosh, J. (2018). What is serotonin and what does it do? Found online at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248.php#what-is-serotonin?

The National Sleep Foundation (2017). Melatonin and Sleep. Found online at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/melatonin-and-sleep

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