It’s that time of the year again. The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting colder. In Indiana, we have seen a few snow flurries, and I am dreading the graying of the sky for the winter. In response, we tend to sleep more, crave carbohydrates, and experience less energy. Although not an official DSM-IV TR diagnosis, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, or seasonal depression) has been popularly accepted by lay persons, practitioners, and researchers alike.
Our natural response to the seasonal changes only becomes a disorder when the distress is in excess of what would be expected from the stressor (seasonal change) and/or when it interferes with functioning in more than one key life area. If you are late to work every day and fighting more with your significant other, your response may be severe enough to be considered a disorder. Regardless of the extent to which the seasonal change effects you, there are several things you can do to fight the winter blues.
Light therapy – The change in daylight and thus your circadian rhythms can be a major player in SAD. Even if the sun is not yet up when you rise, you can mimic the effects by turning on the lights around you right away. Light boxes have not yet been approved by the FDA, but are a common means for adding more light to your life. If possible, you may want to escape to a sunnier climate for a brief break.
Exercise – You may be feeling lethargic and opposed to driving through the snow to get to the gym; however, regular exercise will relieve stress, invigorate your body, and improve your mood. Get creative and make sure you’re doing something somewhere to stay active.
Socialize – It is easy to want to “hibernate” and stay indoors when it is less pleasant outside, making regular socialization more difficult. Research shows that people are mildly anxious and depressed while watching TV and those that spend more time watching television are less satisfied with their social lives. Whether going out with friends, house parties, or phone calls, make sure you stay connected to those people who are important in your life and who can support you.