Winter can be a joyous time for many people as it marks the beginning of the holidays, unfortunately, it also means chilly gray days that can trigger a case of “the winter blues” in some. If you live in one of the cities where winters get really harsh, winter blues can be particularly damaging to your well-being.
What are the Winter Blues?
The experts at the National Institutes of Health say that winter blues are a common phenomenon during winter days. It is estimated that about 14% of people in the US experience winter blues each year. The symptoms generally include feeling sad, hopeless, and less energized.
If you find yourself feeling gloomy and lethargic during the darker days of winter, it could be winter blues. In most cases, winter blues don’t really stop you from your daily life, but if you start experiencing significant mood swings that are negatively impacting your relationships or work, it could be seasonal affective disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recurrent form of depression that occurs each year at the same time. It gets triggered with the change in seasons, usually starting in the fall and continuing through the winter.
To put it simply, winter blues is when you just want to get bundled up and stay in your bed. SAD, on the other hand, is more severe and debilitating.
It is crucial that you seek medical help if you think you’re suffering from SAD. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder typically experience the following symptoms:
- Oversleeping and overeating
- Feeling fatigued and sluggish constantly
- Struggling to concentrate at work
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling hopeless and worthless
- Feeling down or depressed throughout the day, almost every day
- Isolating and withdrawing from friends and family
- Having suicidal or self-harming thoughts
- Feeling as if you want to “hibernate” and stay inside
If you or someone you know seem to be showing any of these signs, it could be SAD, so make sure you talk to a doctor or a psychologist right away.
Winter Blues Symptoms
The symptoms of winter blues are not as intense as those of SAD, but you should still pay attention to them and contact your doctor. If you have winter blues, you may show the following signs:
Feeling Less Social Than You Usually Do
Does the idea of going out and mingling with people sound terribly taxing to you? Winter blues can sap your energy, leaving you irritated and tired all day.
Darker nights often disrupt the balance of melatonin levels in the body, resulting in poor sleep patterns. If you are not getting restorative sleep, it can leave a heaviness in your arms and legs, and also result in trouble concentrating on your work.
Lack of Energy and Motivation
With lower levels of sunlight, your biological clock or circadian rhythm may also get disrupted. This will result in you feeling unmotivated and depressed most of the day. Lack of light exposure also causes a reduction in the body’s serotonin levels which can induce a general feeling of unhappiness.
Change in Appetite
Since reduced levels of natural light disturb the hormone levels in the body, you may find yourself craving foods high in carbohydrates, especially sweet and starchy foods.
Treatment is Available
If you are going through a depressive disorder – even a mild one – it could be treated with medication, vitamin D supplements, and light therapy. Your doctor may suggest a simple blood test to measure your vitamin D levels because its lack is directly associated with anxiety and depression.
Exposure to bright sunlight every day is also effective but if that’s not an option for you (due to weak sunlight during winter), light therapy is worth looking into. Many studies have found that light therapy that mimics sunlight is helpful in alleviating the symptoms of depressive disorders, including SAD.
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