It’s hard to believe it but we’ve added 20 minutes of day light to our schedule since the shortest day of the year – that being December 21st, the Winter Solstice. It’s that day when Pocatello only receives 9 hours of sunlight! To give you an idea of how drastic our seasonal daylight hours are, in July we are blessed with over 15 hours of sunlight. (timebie.com) While we are slowly increasing our daylight hours, the days still seem dark, and the cold weather likes to keep us indoors. We’re sort of in the home stretch for the winter season and for some people that means Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD – still persists.
You may be thinking why address it as SAD rather than seasonal depression? That’s because not only are our moods affected by winters but also summer. Just as the two extreme seasons remain opposite of each other so are their effects on our mood. In the summer, studies show that spikes in our Cortisol – often referred to as the stress hormone – are more prevalent in our bodies and make us angrier or have heightened anxiety. During the winter months Cortisol levels are often attenuated or reduced making many people feel depressed and have lower levels of arousal.
However; Cortisol levels for healthy persons are very well regulated with only a slight difference of these levels in comparison to summer and winter months. (Czeisler, Gooley) As per the norm, there isn’t a single thing that causes us to feel differences in our moods. It’s a combination of little choices that occur based on the traditional activities correlated with the present time. For example, during the summer months we get outside more and increase our activity levels. We also – and this may surprise some – eat more fruits and vegetables in the summer and drink more alcohol in the winter, the later, has been proven to be a depressant. In addition to dampening moods through the winter seasons, we tend to increase our appetites which leads to weight gain. The additional inches on our waistlines can cause some real unhappiness as well.
As science continues to increase our knowledge and experience of SAD there are a few recommendations we offer you to help alleviate the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder for these winter months.
- Increase your light intake through artificial full spectrum light boxes. These boxes should be used in small doses – no longer than 20 minutes – once per day. While the FDA has not officially approved them as medical devices, there are many years of successful clinal use. (Horowitz)
- Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables per meal! Only 1 in 10 American adults are eating the federal fruit and vegetable recommendation amount. If you struggle with the idea of constantly prepping vegetables for every meal, you can always prepare a whole bunch and freeze them for later. Or you can just buy them froze at the store. The vitamins and nutrients are not lost when produce is frozen.
- Recent studies into aromatherapy have showed improvement in depressive symptoms. While more research is needed, there seems to be no sign of negative affects caused by properly using essential oils, floral or balms to increase our moods. For a quick breakdown into aromatherapy visit this page offered by the mayoclinic.
- Lastly, but certainly not least; get moving! A study of subjects who routinely performed mild to moderate daily exercise during the winter months resulted in the alleviation of typical depressive symptoms.
Here in Idaho you can always count on being able to do the following fun activities to help get your energy levels up.
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Touch Football
And if you can’t make it outdoors due to icy driveways and roads there is an entire reddit thread dedicated to using your own bodyweight or minimal exercise equipment for those hoping to increase their activity levels indoors during the winter months. www.reddit.com/r/bodyweightfitness/
Danielle Hamill, a provider at Physicians Mental Health states “We can help those feeling down from the winter months with a combination of medication management and counseling. It’s important for people to recognize that these symptoms can be evidence of something more than SAD – but we are readily available to help counsel those needing to feel a boost in their mood during the winter months.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects people in their own way and with different levels of intensity. The same symptoms experienced during the winter months also mirror that of Chronic Depression or other emotional disorders that should not be taken lightly. It can be hard to know if emotional distress will quickly pass once the sun stays higher in the sky or continue on as winter ends.
We at Physicians Mental Health services encourage people to complete a few of the recommendations to alleviant the symptoms of SAD. If you start to include even minor changes to your day using some of these recommended items and don’t feel any different – we strongly invite you to schedule a visit with us. A cursory session will help us diagnose – and if needed -develop a treatment plan for individuals seeking to alleviate mental or emotional conditions for just a season; or year-round.