With cooler weather comes shorter days which can lead to mood changes. Many people find themselves feeling blue due to shortening of daylight hours. For most, the winter blues usually clear up on its own and are often linked to stressful holidays or absent loved ones.
However, “seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is different,” according to Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “It’s a well-defined clinical diagnosis that’s related to the shortening of daylight hours. It interferes with daily functioning over a significant period of time.”
A key feature of SAD is that it follows a regular pattern. It appears each year as the seasons change, and it goes away several months later, usually during spring and summer. SAD is more common in northern rather than southern parts of the U.S., where winter days last longer.
The NIH offers several mood lifting tips to help with seasonal depression:
- Go to a movie, take a walk, go ice-skating or do other activities you normally enjoy.
- Get out in the sunlight or brightly lit spaces, especially early in the day.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
- Eat nutritious foods and avoid overloading on carbohydrates like cookies and candies.
- Be patient. You won’t suddenly “snap out of” depression. Your mood will improve gradually.
- If you have thoughts of suicide, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you’re feeling blue this winter, and if the feelings last for several weeks, talk to a health care provider. “It’s true that SAD goes away on its own, but five months out of every year is a long time to be impaired and suffering,” says Rudorfer. “SAD is generally quite treatable, and the treatment options keep increasing and improving.”
Source: National Institutes of Health