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Preventing the Winter Blues (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

While the National Institute of Health reports that 5% of Americans officially have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), in truth the majority of us are affected to some extent by the shorter days of fall and winter. This fall, there are simple steps you can take to prevent the Winter Blues – protecting your mood and […]

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While the National Institute of Health reports that 5% of Americans officially have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), in truth the majority of us are affected to some extent by the shorter days of fall and winter.

This fall, there are simple steps you can take to prevent the Winter Blues – protecting your mood and your waistline.

If you live far from the equator or in a cloudy climate, you might notice some of these symptoms in October, November, December, and January.  

  1. Low energy
  2. Cravings for carbohydrates and sugar
  3. Weight gain
  4. Sleeping more
  5. Depressed or flat mood
  6. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you normally enjoy
  7. Trouble concentrating

The Winter Blues can be sneaky.  Often people aren’t aware in their sluggish brains that their mood is compromised.  We might go into a kind of coping hibernation mode.  I have noticed where I live that on cloudy, gloomy winter days, there are at least 75% less people out walking the trails.

You might think therapists and psychiatrists are busiest during the shortest day of winter.  It’s actually not until days get longer in late February/March that they see an increase in clients.  During late fall and winter, people seem to be too sluggish to initiate getting help. 

One winter before I knew about SAD and it’s treatment, I tried living in western Oregon.  It wasn’t pretty.  I got every winter blues symptom on the list.  Soon after returning to sunny Colorado, I was back to myself.  My hat is off to people who can live well in cloudy places.

If you are one of the many who get severely depressed in the winter, please consider getting professional help.  As SAD involves an imbalance of the neurotransmitter serotonin, some people get great relief from an antidepressant.

Another approach is replacing the light missing in the shorter, cloudier days of fall and winter in one of two simple ways:

1.  Get more consistent exposure to direct sunlight either by spending time next to a sunny window or taking breaks or walks outside without sunglasses.

2.  Use a light box or light pad.  

One inaccurate belief about winter blues is that the solution is full-spectrum lighting. The crucial factor is actually the intensity of the light, not it’s color.

The light box or pad should emit at least 10,000 lux.  Lux is a unit of measure of brightness.  You need to sit 16 to 24 inches from the device for at least 20 to 30 minutes most every early morning.  It can be pointed toward you from the side of your computer or in front of you while you read, relax, eat, or make calls.

One caveat – people with bipolar disorder need to use a bright light device with caution as it can possibly stimulate mania for some.

With the increased social isolation we are experiencing because of COVID, now might be a very good time to take a small action step as insurance that your winter can be as pleasant as is possible during this challenging time.

Wishing you all the best,

Judy O’Neill, MSW

www.bouldercoachingandtherapy.com

Helping clients get unstuck and struggle less…

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