As beautiful as winter can be, sometimes the shift from summer to fall to winter can feel the heaviest. The days are getting darker earlier, and around here in Portland, Oregon it’s often dark before you get home from work. If that throws your whole sense of being out of whack, you’re not alone. Estimated to affect more than 10 million Americans and diagnosed in women four times more than men, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real case of more than just the winter blues.
Some Science Behind SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that has a recurring seasonal pattern. Medically, it can be caused by changes in levels of serotonin, which is the chemical that helps regulate your mood (among other things). Melatonin, a hormone that affects your sleep, is also affected by the shorter days. Transitions like the change in weather can also bring up a lot of personal triggers. When all of these issues add up, it can feel overwhelming. Along with typical symptoms of depression, a few specific symptoms of wintertime SAD can include:
- Low energy levels
- Sleeping a lot more
- Craving carbohydrates and eating more, in general,
- Social withdrawal
Treatment For SAD
It’s important to recognize the symptoms so that you can make choices to set yourself up to beat SAD. Staying physically active and planning fun activities during the winter months is essential to maintaining a positive mindset. Approaching the winter season with a positive attitude might sound like it is easier said than done, however staying mindful of your attitude will naturally allow you to look for the good and fun in the season.
Light therapy in the form of lightboxes or sunrise simulators has been shown to help treat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder by regulating your melatonin production. Other self-care tips such as daily journaling, sticking to a schedule and planning a vacation can help you get through the winter until the daylight starts to lengthen again. If things really do get tough at any time of year, seeking the help of a professional is always the right move.
If you feel like you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, Oregon Health DPC would be happy to partner with you. We can guide you through the different options to find what works for you and set you on a path to enjoy your life all year long. At Oregon Health DPC, we believe that mental health is an integral part of overall health. As a primary care physician, Dr. Mathai believes in treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms. He can work with you on cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and self-care, and get you in contact with a mental health specialist when needed.