“Winter Blues” AKA Seasonal Affective Disorder
Do you ever experience feeling “sad” or “unmotivated” during the winter months? Especially when it becomes darker earlier, it has such a huge impact on our mood! You are not alone! Research shows about 10 to 20% of people in America experience mild winter blues. Additionally, 5% of adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)- which is depression beginning in fall and continuing into the winter months.
What causes “Winter Blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes seasonal depression. The lack of sunlight may trigger the condition in people who are prone to getting it. Additionally these other factors contribute to this:
- Biological clock change due to less sun exposure.
- Brain chemical imbalance: Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send communications between nerves. These chemicals include serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness. People at risk for SAD may already have less serotonin activity. Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, the lack of winter sun can make the situation worse. Serotonin levels can fall further, leading to mood changes.
- Vitamin D deficit: Serotonin also gets a boost from vitamin D. Since sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. That change can affect serotonin and mood.
- Melatonin boost: Melatonin is a chemical that affects sleep patterns. The lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in some people. They may feel sluggish and sleepy during the winter.
- Negative thoughts: People with SAD often have stress, anxiety and negative thoughts about the winter. Researchers aren’t sure if these negative thoughts are a cause or effect of seasonal depression.
How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treated?
- Phototherapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can treat SAD. Place the special lamp about 2 or 3 feet away from you while you engage in your usual activities. It is recommended to do this for 20-30 minutes every morning.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of talk therapy called CBT can also effectively treat SAD.
- Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy.
- Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve symptoms.
- Dr. Amanda Gerber