I really dislike the winter. I enjoy the cheer around Christmas and Thanksgiving, but once all the fun is over, the Christmas tree is stored away, and every surface seems to be covered in rock salt residue- my mood shifts. Working with clients over the past seven years I began to see how not-alone I was. This phenomenon has a name -Seasonal Affective Disorder (conveniently abbreviated to ‘SAD’). This is an actual depressive disorder that affects around 5% of adults in the United States. Women are more likely to struggle with it.
In the winter months we experience less sunlight which leads to a shift in our biological clock that regulates our mood, sleep and hormones. In addition to our biological clock impacting our hormones, reduced sunlight also impacts our serotonin production. Serotonin is the chemical in our brain that directly relates to feelings of happiness. Lack of prolonged exposure to sunlight makes these levels decrease. Melatonin also plays a part. Melatonin is the chemical that affects sleep patterns. With reduced sunlight, we are inclined to over produce melatonin which can make us feel tired and sluggish.
There are also many outside factors that can contribute to these feelings of seasonal depression. In the state of Illinois, we experience extreme weather which can cause us to endure disappointment and anger over canceled plans, being homebound, anxiety from poor driving conditions and fears about physical safety and health. We are also less likely to socialize and spend time doing activities we enjoy outdoors- things that directly contribute to our positive well-being.
So what can we do to conquer this? The first step is understanding this is a common phenomenon and you are not alone. As I mentioned before – chemicals in our bodies are reacting to the environment. You can make up for the lack in sunlight by keeping your blinds open during the day, doing your work near a bright window, and using photo therapy lights LIKE THIS (27$ on Amazon). You can also take a vitamin D supplement daily. Its important to move your body as much as possible and get outside if you can. If it’s too cold out, you could also benefit from taking a stroll around your favorite store. I recommend Target browsing to clients all the time. Tell your husband your therapist sent you! Its also important to keep good sleep habits to regulate your circadian rhythm.
If your SAD symptoms are getting in the way of your daily life it could be time to talk to a therapist. It isn’t uncommon that particular times of the year trigger memories of stress and trauma, and there may be a connection to past events that need processing. Some people really benefit from trying an anti-depressant, or adjusting their current dose.
Adjust your mindset to focus on the warmer and brighter days ahead and don’t suffer alone- there can be joy found even in the more frigid snow covered days.