More than the "winter blues"
Seasonal affective disorder
You may have noticed that some friends, loved ones or consumers - or even yourself - seem to have a hard time during the winter months. They seem moody, depressed or anxious. They have no energy, withdraw from social activities they usually enjoy and have difficulty concentrating and processing information. They just seem to want to sleep and eat.
It's normal for people to have some days when they feel down, but if a person feels down for days at a time and he cannot seem to get motivated to do activities he normally enjoys, this may be more than just the "winter blues." He may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a cyclic condition in which symptoms come and go at the same time every year. It is a mood disorder in which people who have no mental health issues throughout most of the year, experience depressive symptoms in the winter.
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes medications, light therapy, using a special lamp to mimic light from the sun or other treatments. The Mayo Clinic recommends some simple measures that may help, such as:
- Make the environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, add skylights and trim tree branches that block sunlight. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
- Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help - especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
- Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
To manage seasonal affective disorder, the Mayo Clinic also recommends:
- Stick to your treatment plan. Take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments as scheduled.
- Take care of yourself. Get enough rest. Eat regular, healthy meals. Take time to relax. Do not turn to alcohol or un-prescribed drugs for relief.
- Practice stress management. Learn how to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
- Socialize. When you are depressed, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.
- Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations.
Several herbal remedies, supplements and mind-body techniques are commonly used to relieve depression symptoms. It's not clear how effective these treatments are for seasonal affective disorder, and some alternative treatments may not be safe if you have other health conditions or take certain medications. For example, SAMe and St. John's Wort can interact with medications for other conditions, especially antidepressants. Talk to your doctor before trying either of these remedies to make sure they are safe for you. Mind-body therapies that may help relieve depression symptoms include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, guided imagery and massage therapy.
Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, seasonal affective disorder can worsen and lead to problems, including suicidal thoughts or behavior, social withdrawal, school or work problems or substance abuse.
There's no known way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms would normally start in the fall or winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to head off serious changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.