Throughout time, poets have often described a sense of lethargy which can accompany the shortening days of fall and winter seasons as an affective or mood disorder. Most individuals who are affected by this condition experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms during the winter seasons when the day light times get shorter. This condition is know as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Although the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder mimic those of clinical depression, most affected persons are not depressed in the usual emotional sense. They however feel fatigued and have a general lack of enthusiasm for their usual interests. In extreme cases, SAD can become a serious disorder requiring medical attention and even hospitalization. Norman Rosenthal, MD, a pioneer in SAD research and author of Winter Blues: Everything you need to know to beat Seasonal Affective disorder, has described SAD as “an energy crisis”. The typical symptoms of SAD include feelings of depression, lack of feeling rested after sleep periods, and a craving for sweets and carbohydrates.
Various etiologies have postulated as to the causative factors of SAD. One possibility, though disputed, is that SAD is related to a lack of serotonin and that exposure to full spectrum artificial light may improve the condition by stimulating Serotonin production. Dr. Rosenthal first described the disorder as “Winter Blues”, although this term is more often used to describe something commonly felt by a greater number of individuals during the winter season.
If you recognize the mentioned symptoms, the following can often bring relief:
1) Engage and increase time spent doing outdoor activities especially when it is sunny.
2) Exercise regularly, either at home or at a health fitness club. A short period of twenty minutes is often recommended to work up a sweat.
3) Choose meals wisely to prevent excessive weight gain. Avoid foods with high sugar or carbohydrate content.
4) Avoid spending time alone, but seek out and get together with friends and a social circle that is supportive.
5) Engage in constructive activities that you enjoy.
6) Those who work long hours should plan for breaks in between. A short, brisk walk outside the building is a good activity while on break.
Practicing some or most of these suggestions should help bring some relief. If the symptoms persist, it would be wise to seek medical intervention to possibly prevent succumbing to a full blown depression.
The writer is an advanced Nurse Practitioner with Allina Health Systems in Minneapolis, Minnesota.