Navigating Mood Disorders When Struggling With the Winter Blues
There are numerous mood disorders, but the most common include depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. These disorders often include symptoms such as persistent feelings of sadness, losing interest in parts of life that are important to you, and going between feeling extremely happy to extremely sad. Although it’s perfectly normal for moods to change, symptoms for mood disorders must be present for several weeks or longer to be diagnosed.
Now that we are in the winter months, it’s essential to pay attention to your symptoms and their regularity. Millions of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but don’t know they have the condition. In fact, 14% of the U.S. adult population suffers from the “winter blues.” It’s more common in women than in men, especially those who live farther north.
Struggling with SAD while also trying to navigate a mood disorder can be challenging. The onset of SAD symptoms along with symptoms of mood disorders can feel impossible to get through. Luckily, it is possible to get through the winter months while struggling with a mood disorder and SAD.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that occurs during certain seasons of the year, more commonly starting in the late autumn or early winter months. Many people start to feel gloomy and weak when the days get shorter in the fall and winter, which is why it’s referred to as the “winter blues.”
The months of January and February tend to be the most difficult. Typically individuals will start to feel better in the spring when daylight hours lengthen; however, SAD episodes can also less commonly begin in the spring or summer months.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
In some cases, this form of depression can affect how a person thinks, feels, and handles daily activities for up to four or five months of the year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), not everyone will experience the same SAD symptoms in the winter, but some common symptoms may include:
- Feeling depressed every day for most of the day
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Experiencing changes in appetite and craving more carbohydrates or sweets
- Weight gain
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Feeling sluggish or constantly agitated
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Not being able to concentrate
- Avoiding social situations and not wanting to go out
Moreover, symptoms of summer depression have some similarities and differences compared to winter depression. Overall, either type includes feelings of guilt, loss of interest in activities, or physical problems such as increased headaches or stomach aches.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Scientists and researchers don’t fully understand what causes SAD, but they believe it sometimes runs in families who have a history of other mental health disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
Those with SAD may also have decreased serotonin levels in the winter due to reduced activity of the brain chemical that helps regulate mood. It is also believed that people with SAD may produce too much melatonin, which increases sleepiness. Serotonin and melatonin are vital in maintaining the body’s daily rhythm, so the changes in both disrupt the seasonal night-day cycle. Due to this, people experiencing SAD struggle to adjust to changes in daylight length.
Combating the Winter Blues
Overcoming SAD while having another mood disorder can feel like a challenge. Luckily, there are several ways you can help yourself combat the winter blues, including:
#1. Therapy Options
There are a number of treatments that can relieve symptoms of SAD, such as light therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, and vitamin D. Light therapy means exposing yourself to artificial light in order to keep your circadian rhythm on track. Investing in a phototherapy box or lightbox can boost your mood and alleviate symptoms of SAD by mimicking sunshine.
Dawn simulators are also a great alternative to a traditional alarm clock because they produce light that gradually increases in order to wake you up in a peaceful manner. These simulators can also motivate you to start your day, especially when gloomy, dark mornings make it hard to get out of bed most days.
#2. Prepare Yourself
Another way to help cope with SAD is to prepare your mind for the transition as fall approaches. Begin regularly partaking in activities that will help you feel physically and emotionally better. This may include fall festivities such as pumpkin patches or something unrelated to the season like community service or picking up a new hobby.
Either way, prioritizing keeping yourself busy ahead of time will help you once the winter blues set in. Soak up any daylight you can by spending more time outside or rearranging your home or office, so you’re exposed to a window often throughout the day.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts millions of people each year. Whether it’s during spring, summer, fall, or winter, the effects of SAD can significantly influence one’s daily routine. With winter already underway, you may be feeling sleepy, hopeless, unmotivated, or withdrawn. If you find that you’re feeling more and more depressed every day, you may be suffering from SAD, also known as the winter blues. It’s important to know you are not alone, and Achieve Concierge offers a variety of treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD and other mood disorders. Treatment options include medications, psychotherapy, light therapy, and developing an exercise regimen. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is dedicated to providing you with a customized and evidence-based treatment plan to meet your every need. Achieve Concierge is committed to ensuring that every patient is taken care of successfully and holistically. To schedule a treatment consultation, call us today at (858) 221-0344.