Do you feel depressed when the days begin to shorten? According to an article by The Cleveland Clinic, approximately 4 to 6% of the U.S. population is affected by a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Many others have mild symptoms of “winter blues.” Some people, however, experience their SAD during late spring, into the summer months.
Most doctors agree that the much more common “winter SAD” is probably caused by reduced exposure to sunlight. This is because the closer you get to the equator, where there are more hours of sunlight each day, there are fewer and less severe cases of SAD.
Symptoms of winter SAD include the typical symptoms of depression such as sadness, lack of energy, oversleeping, increased appetite, weight gain, and self-isolation. By contrast, the spring-summer variety of SAD produces symptoms such as weight loss, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite and irritability.
Many people feel the affects of winter SAD when the leaves begin to fall, and even more as the time changes. For many others, the symptoms seem to hit or get worse after the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over. When the tree comes down and the garland, lights, and other decorations are put away, we seem to be left with dark, dreary emptiness.
Valentine’s Day might be just a few weeks away, but if you don’t have anyone to share it with, seeing all those hearts and cupids all over the place can compound the problem! But since there is no way to change the seasons yourself, you just have to wait it out and make the best of it. In the mean time, however, there are a few things you can do which might lift your spirits. I have a few suggestions that might help:
*Pull back the curtains and open the blinds. Since the experts seem to agree that light deprivation is probably the cause of (winter) SAD, it only makes sense to let in as much light as possible.
*If you can stand the cold, go outside, even if it’s just to sit on your porch for a few minutes. You get more light than you think, even on a gloomy, overcast day. The more light your body perceives, the better you will feel.
*Bring in some green. If you don’t have a green thumb, try some artificial greenery. Put some pretty swags over your doorways or over a vignette on your wall. Get some plants—the bigger, the better! The greenery makes the area feel “homey” and reminds you that spring is just around the corner.
*Buy yourself some flowers. Live ones are probably best, but of course, they die. Silk ones look real, and they can be there to cheer you for years.
*Put some clear lights (or maybe even colored, if you dare) on ficus trees throughout your home. They will replace the cheerful Christmas lights that you enjoyed so much. Let your ficus be your “after-Christmas” tree.
*Light some scented candles. Every little bit of light counts, and the scent is a bonus.
*Get up and do something. Get out that scrapbook you need to update. Donate some books to a library, or some clothes or other items to a shelter. Doing something for someone else always makes you feel good.
*Get some exercise. I know, it’s difficult to motivate yourself to exercise, but the benefits are really worth it. You don’t have to go to a gym or own a basement full of machines. Do some leg lifts, a few crunches, some push-ups, march in place, etc. All that is free, and your body and your mind will love you for it.
Any of these tips would be good for SAD sufferers, winter or summer, and for depression sufferers of all kinds. Hopefully, they will make you feel better, and you can mark off each day on your calendar with a big smile.
SAD is not a figment of your imagination. It is a type of depression, which can be very serious. If these tips are not enough to lift your spirits, you might need to talk to your family doctor or a mental health professional. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help immediately. Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. “What Is Seasonal Depression?” 1995-2009.