When Your Body Gets the Winter Blues

When Your Body Gets the Winter Blues

Have you ever noticed that the winter months often bring a little bit of the “blues”? Have you had problems every winter with the blahs, especially after the holidays are over? If so, you just may be suffering from a type of minor depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. This well-studied and researched seasonal “sadness” starts in the fall and continues into the winter months, peaking in January and February.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shorter days, fewer daylight hours and lack of sunlight in winter. For many people the winter blahs are merely the sense of feeling low, having less energy or just wanting to stay in bed all day. This form is referred to as the “winter blues.” For others, SAD is a seriously disabling illness that prevents them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment during the winter and spring months.  

A medical diagnosis of SAD is made when a person experiences this mood change or mild depression for three consecutive months, or for several winters in a row. SAD researchers have noted that when the days become darker, the hormone melatonin, which normally shuts down production with the light of day, continues to produce into the daytime hours. This often leads to fatigue, feeling unmotivated, craving sweets and sometimes depression.  

Symptoms of SAD

  • Sleep problems: A desire to oversleep or difficulty staying awake.
  • Fatigue: Excessive tiredness or inability to carry out normal activities without feeling worn out.
  • Overeating: Craving food, especially junk food or foods that are high in carbohydrates and simple sugars, leading to more depression and weight gain.
  • Depression: Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem.
  • Social problems: Irritability and desire to avoid social contact.
  • Anxiety: Tension and inability to handle stress or stressful situations.
  • Mood changes: Moods can fluctuate quickly and many SAD sufferers will notice their mood is much more stable in the summer.
  • Lowered immune system: Many people with SAD have lowered immunity, making them more prone to illness and infections.

Treatment Options for SAD

  • Light therapy: Also called phototherapy, this involves sitting in front of a light box to help mimic the natural sunlight. The technique appears to cause a change in brain chemicals that improve mood. Using light therapy to “turn off” daytime melatonin can assist in relieving symptoms in up to 85 percent of cases.  
  • Change in eating habits: Consume less sugar and processed white starchy foods. Increase the fiber, protein, fruits and veggies in your diet. Also, add more nuts, seeds and good fats like olive oil, avocados, flax seeds and fish oil.
  • B-Complex: Add this vitamin group to your daily routine—they are essential building blocks to most neuro-brain chemicals necessary for emotional and mental balance.
  • Daily exercise: Outdoor activity is better, as it helps release endorphins that boost your mood.
  • 5HTP, St. John’s Wort, SAM-e, Melatonin and Omega Fatty acids: All are natural supplements that can provide mood-boosting benefits without many side effects.
  • Vitamin D3: One of the most important mood-boosting vitamins in the winter. Have your Vitamin D level checked and then supplement to get your level up to the optimal range. It really works!
  • Hormone testing: Balancing your hormones during this time can help achieve balance in all areas.
  • Prescription medications: When necessary, these can be used to treat more severe cases of SAD, along with therapy and counseling. Please consult your medical practitioner to find the best solution for you.

The most important advice about Seasonal Affective Disorder is “Don’t suffer alone!” If you have several of these symptoms, search out medical advice and treatment. Don’t let the dark days of winter get you down this year!