Wintertime Blues

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t lying when he predicted six more weeks of winter. It seems he wasn’t just telling us about the delay of spring, but the beloved groundhog was telling us that the worst is yet to come.

As another snowstorm moves over the East this week, those in both the northern and southern U.S. are already sick of the cold weather. And while some believe they’ve got cabin fever, particular symptoms can prove otherwise.

A condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of Americans every year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in this CNN article, it’s a type of depression which can happen in the winter when less natural sunlight is present. Symptoms include:

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

While the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, researchers have narrowed down a few factors that may come into play.

Michael Terman, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons says that our inner clock needs to stay in sync with rest-activity cycles dictated by family and work life. If it does not sync, the effect can be disorienting and also a trigger for mood slumps and depression.

“Since the inner clock relies on sunlight to stay in sync, winter sunrise is later and winter nights are longer, melatonin can overshoot into the day, causing grogginess or ‘brain fog,’ for several hours,” he says.

Fortunately, this disorder is treatable in ways other than prescriptions and over the counter medication. Light therapy, while not regulated by the FDA, has been proven to help. Sitting next to a bright, heated light can mimic natural outdoor light and help to increase serotonin levels.

Staying active outside and around your home is also a quick fix. Movement helps to boost endorphins and exercise can make you feel better about yourself. Luckily, only a few more weeks remain in winter 2015; enjoy the sweater weather while it lasts and look forward to the upcoming spring!

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