Parkridge Medical Group December 15, 2014

We all feel blue sometimes. If your “down days” have turned into weeks or even months, you could have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

In the winter, we tend to go into hibernation mode. Colder temperatures make us want to consume more calories to store up heat and energy. Shorter days and less exposure to sunlight affect our sleep and mood, making us feel lethargic. The more time we spend indoors, the less active we are, which can further lower our mood and deplete our energy levels.

Normal or Not?

For the most part, these physiological changes are normal and natural. But when seasonal swings in mood and energy become drastic and long-lasting, the culprit may actually be a recognized medical condition known as SAD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain triggered by shorter daylight hours and decreased exposure to sunlight. The National Institute of Mental Health says that SAD is a form of clinical depression and shares many of depression’s symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Fluctuating weight
  • Insomnia and/or oversleeping
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions

Beat the Winter Blues

Try these tips to minimize the effects of seasonal mood changes:

  • Walk it off. One study found that participants with SAD who took daily, hour-long walks during daylight hours experienced improvements in their condition. Regular exercise generally can help alleviate mild depression symptoms.
  • Shed some light. Doctors often prescribe light therapy, which involves 30 minutes of daily exposure to a “light box,” a device that simulates sunlight.
  • Get help. If your symptoms last longer than a few weeks and interfere with daily life, speak with your primary care provider about treatment options.

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