Around this time of the year some people start to get a little antsy – we have made it through most of the dreary winter and are desperately waiting for spring to arrive and feel the warmth of the sun and the revival of all the plant life outside. Luckily, we have just returned to daylight savings time so we do get an extra hour of sunlight right now; I know that I appreciate that the darkness no longer falls at 4:30 pm. It makes me hopeful – and I know spring is just around the corner. Not that I would turn down an opportunity to head straight to a tropical island and sit on a beautiful, warm sunny beach right now, because I am tired of this cold, damp, dreary weather.
The winter blues affect many of us, but we are able to get through those winter months by getting outdoors and taking advantage of the sun when it comes out – there is really nothing as spectacular as seeing the sunlight bounce of the snow on the branches of the trees just after it has snowed and that fresh crispness in the air can be so invigorating! As I mentioned earlier, a short vacation to a warm, sunny beach in the middle of winter does wonders for everyone as well!
For some people the cold, dull weather makes them feel depressed and zaps their energy, and makes them moody. Usually this feeling starts in the fall as the weather cools and days get shorter and the sun comes out less, and they tend to spend more time indoors hibernating from the cold. It can be debilitating and affect their lives. Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] is a form of clinical depression thought to be caused by seasonal variations in light; it was recognized as a disorder in the early 1980’s and can affect up to 3% of the population in Northern climates where the winter days are shorter. It is thought to cause problems with Serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects our moods. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it can be ‘difficult to diagnose and symptoms may be similar to those of other types of depression’; It also seems to affect more women than men. Generally, if it occurs for more than 2 consecutive winters, you should go in and see your doctor. The symptoms generally disappear when spring arrives but will reoccur again once fall begins.
Treatment depends on the severity of SAD:
•People with mild symptoms will generally feel better if they get outside more and exercise regularly; the exposure to more light and activity will make people feel better mentally and physically and can help lift their spirits.
• “Light therapy” has also been used in the treatment of SAD – sitting beside a special fluorescent light box for several minutes day – some people respond well to the bright, artificial light and see a difference in as little as a week.
• More severe forms of SAD are treated with anti-depressants and counseling. Remember, if you are feeling any of the symptoms of depression, whether they are seasonal or not, you should go in to talk to your doctor.
Spring is just around the corner, get out there and enjoy the longer daylight and get some fresh air and exercise. Does wonders for us all around!
Are you affected by the change in seasons, what do you do to help you through the winter?