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Tired of winter?
Posted: 2/24/2011 | Personal Development Comments
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It’s only February, and most of us are eager for spring. We’re tired of the cold, the snow, and shorter days. We’ve made it through the holidays, traditionally a joyful time but sometimes a time of stress and unfulfilled expectations. Maybe we find ourselves sleeping and eating more while socializing less. We long for sunshine to warm our bones and call us outside to play. It might be the “winter blahs,” but what if it’s something more serious? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression affecting about 1 in 5 Americans each year. People of any age can suffer from SAD, but as with any type of depression, women have a higher risk. A recent New York Times article explains women suffer more due to sociocultural factors like work related stress, family responsibilities and child rearing. Additionally, more women live in poverty and have histories of sexual abuse, and women experience hormonal changes with menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause- each potential contributors to depression.

SAD occurs far more often in winter months, but on rare occasions people experience it in summer. It happens less in regions with light-reflecting snow on the ground, and more often in regions with frequent cloud cover. You don’t have to live in Alaska or Scandinavia to have SAD, either. In fact, Icelandic people have a lower incidence of SAD then Americans, possibly due to genetics but likely caused by an abundant consumption of cold water fish high in Vitamin D and DHA.

So why do people get SAD? Experts aren’t completely sure of the cause, but it seems to be a combination of diminished daylight, lower body temperature, decreased serotonin production and a disturbance of our circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle. How do you know if you have it? As a depressive disorder, SAD exhibits all the common symptoms of depression which you can find here, and additionally can be defined as:

  • A relationship between the depression and a particular time of year, where onset and remission occur at the same time of year for at least two years.
  • Seasonal depressive episodes outnumber non-seasonal depressive episodes over your lifetime.
  • The onset of seasonal depression is not linked to school or employment schedules.

Generally speaking, people who suffer with SAD are more likely to gain weight rather than lose weight, crave foods high in carbohydrates (like bread and pasta,) and often have a close relative with SAD.
If you think it’s possible you have seasonal affective disorder, please check with your health care provider or mental health professional. Psychotherapy is of course very helpful, and there are several other treatments proven effective. Light therapy is commonly prescribed, and exposure over time to bright, artificial light can ease symptoms considerably. A light box can be purchased with specific types of full spectrum, blue and green light, and is moderately inexpensive. Dawn simulators, a light that grows gradually brighter, helps to stimulate melatonin production and regulate sleep patterns.

Aerobic exercise is exceptionally helpful, especially if done outside in sunlight. Taking brisk walks, even on overcast days, do wonders to increase energy and lift our mood. Yoga and meditation remain great ways to calm us and improve our state of mind. Certain B vitamins like folic acid and B6, as well as foods high in omega-6 fatty acids can make a big difference with symptoms of SAD. Spending time with friends is important, so we don’t feel so isolated and alone.

Unless you’re lucky enough to hop the next flight to a balmy locale, we’re stuck with winter for a few more weeks. The good news is that winter provides us the important opportunity to hunker down, snuggle up and turn within. It’s a natural time to be thoughtful, quiet and ground ourselves. As the days grow longer and warmer, our energy will move up and outward. Seasons always change, and soon we’ll feel better, happier and ready for spring!

Please leave your comments/thoughts/questions below. I would love to hear from you.


terri hoagland       Posted: 2/24/2011 4:02:58 PM

I am ready for spring! I love cold winters, it makes me feel jolly inside. I love snow, it is beautiful. When it is very cold, I sleep like a bear, it feels good and coffee seems to taste better in the cold winter. Did you know that you should always set your home temp @ 70 or 72, because if you set it at a higher temp, you might get too sick. I always set my temp at 70 and I never get a cold. Your plants become jolly too when you set your temp at 70. I think when the weather changes often during one season, people seem to get too depressed because of this. Too many people blame it on the global warming, well, this is not why we have this problem. Global warming does not cause this to happen, it is the earth ball that is shooting through space at a higher pace, the earth ball is going through major changes. It is nothing bad, because G_d Most High set things in order for a reason, we just do not know why.
I am ready for Spring, however I will miss winter. I love summer too. Summer is fun, because you can swim, fish, camp, and enjoy family cook outs. What is your favorite season and why?
Do you ever get depressed? Dr. Jennifer Howard, why did you become a counselor? what do you enjoy about counseling? I think your job would be hard, because listening to peoples problems would be hard. Do you take care of your self? Are you first? I sent you an analogy of my mature experiences. Thanks so much for sharing this news.
People that live in Alaska live longer, because the ice cold, cold weather makes them sleep better. There are alot of good things about winter. Sometimes, we do not want to write about the pro and cons, we just only want to look at the bad stuff only. When it is cold, cold, and snows alot, we have less insects during the spring and summer time.

Kate Burton       Posted: 2/25/2011 1:17:35 PM

Thanks for the useful info on SAD, Jennifer. In the UK we''re just having some warmer, longer days and it makes a huge difference to energy levels and people suddenly want to come out of hibernation. I wondered if anyone has any experience of the light boxes and recommendations on teh best ones to get as I would like one for next winter.

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