As the cold, dark days of winter settle in, you may feel sad and slowed down. Depression is more common this time of year. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, MD, psychiatrist and author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder estimates 4% of adults experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a debilitating depression that arrives and departs with the changing seasons. As many as 16% suffer from milder winter blues, he says.
If you lose interest in activities you enjoy, including social relationships and hobbies, or you just want to stay in bed and snooze all winter, read on. The more you know about seasonal depression, the better prepared you will be to address it. Don’t go gently into another sad season. You can counteract seasonal depression in several ways.
Symptoms of seasonal depression aren’t the same for everyone, but they can include: loss of energy and oversleeping, carbohydrate cravings, increased feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and despair, social withdrawal, loss of libido and difficulty concentrating. People who suffer from SAD experience these symptoms at the same time each year, typically in the winter.
Children are less likely to get SAD, Rosenthal says, but by high school 3 to 5% are affected. Kid’s symptoms may be harder to interpret than adults. Children tend less to complain about sadness and depression and are often more irritable and disgruntled, Rosenthal says. They don’t generally undertand the problem as coming from within, but rather see others as being too strict and unfair. Note whether your child’s moods shift with the seasons; if so, address them. Kids benefit from the same strategies as adults, says Rosenthal.
It’s not entirely clear what causes winter depression, but light deprivation contributes. Short, dark days and frigid temperatures keep us indoors, where we don’t get enough environmental light. Insufficient vitamin D-which our bodies make in response to sunlight-may also play a role.
Psychological depression is also more common in winter, according to Joe James, PhD, a Bethesda, Maryland, psychologist. Loneliness, family tension and financial pressures can make the holidays unhappy for some people. Comparing your holiday experiences to idealized images of cozy family celbrations can also leave you feeling low. If your depression is related to holiday hassles, it should lift after a few weeks, James says. SAD is more generalized and longer-lasting.
Bring some light to the fight. Take a walk in the morning sunshine and sit near a window if possible. Don’t close the curtains to keep out the cold. Light is instrumental in setting your body’s circadian fhythm, which will help you to feel alert during the day and sleepy at night.
Raise the level of ambient lighting in your house as much as possible. If that’s not enough, purchase a therapeutic light box from a reputable source, Rosenthal says. Models with intensities from 2,500 to 10,000 lux are considered effective. Higher intensity lights require shorter treatment times.
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