It’s nearly that time of year again – cold weather, snow, ice, clouds and days with less sunlight. For parents, winter is a tough time. Finding activities that are always inside, worrying about snow days and delays, and making sure kids get plenty of physical exercise even though the weather is cold and the days are shorter. On top of that some parents (and those who aren’t) have to deal with a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression usually happens in the winter months due to the weather and shorter periods of daylight. Being that this type of depression is seasonal, the symptoms usually come back the same time every year and go away around the same time. The symptoms usually start late fall or early winter and the symptoms start to disappear when the warmer weather and longer days of sunlight return.

Symptoms of SAD

If you are feeling under the weather during the cold winter months but are not sure if you are suffering from SAD, here are some common symptoms:

1. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety during the winter months.

2. Feeling fatigue, loss of energy, trouble concentrating and unmotivated.

3.  The feelings of sadness, fatigue, isolated, etc. start out mild and become more severe as the winter progresses.

4. Change in appetite and sleeping habits.

5. Social withdrawal; loss of interest in social activities and hobbies.

The cause of SAD is still unknown, but we know environmental factors play a role. I have a client who lives in upstate New York near a lake and experiences “the lake effect” where he gets lots of snow and very little sun all winter. This client has had SAD at the same time every year since his move to upstate New York. We also know that genetics play a role in SAD, which can run in families. SAD is more common in women and we usually see symptoms starting in young adulthood.

SAD Treatments

Here are some tips to help prevent the winter blues:   

1. Get as much light as you can even when you’re indoors. Open the shades, roll up the curtains, move your desk near the windows, etc.

2. Spend time outdoors during the daylight hours. Although the weather might be cold and snowy, being outside during the winter months is beneficial. Go outside for quick walks and sit in the sun to help lift your spirits. After a few days of spending some time outdoors, you will start feeling better.

3. Add exercise into your daily routine. Exercise, even just walking, produces endorphins and reduces stress hormones at the same time. The result is a boost of happiness.

4. Make sure to add some fun into your life. Even though the weather keeps us homebound, it doesn’t have to keep us from having fun. Instead of feeling trapped inside, find ways to engage in things you love.

5. Be social even in the winter months. Adding more social activities where you will be surrounded with family and friends can provide you with the extra support you need.

6. Take a vacation. Some clients feel a sense of isolation and loneliness in the winter months. If this is the case with you, planning vacation time in warm, sunny spots can help and give you something to anticipate.

7. Try light therapy. We know that increased sunlight helps improve the symptoms of SAD. You can buy a light therapy box, which mimics outside light and helps you lift your mood and spirits.   

8. See a counselor before winter starts. If you have a mild case, you can take preventive methods such as seeking a counselor right before late fall to start talking to someone who can help.    

9. Consider medication. Doctors have prescribed anti-depressants, which have worked well for some patients.

10. Psychotherapy is another great option. The therapist can help you identify your negative thoughts and behaviors and help change them. A therapist can also help you establish effective coping skills, which will aid in lifting your overall mood.

By Diane Lang

Diane Lang is a positive living expert and psychotherapist.

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