Winter Blues

The Struggle is Real

Cup of tea on the wood texture. Girl with her dog on the background.

Are you SAD? You’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common than you may think.

In the winter months, is it more difficult to get out of bed? Do you have less energy or motivation? Do you experience a decreased mood, have difficulty sleeping or struggle to concentrate? Do you feel agitated, lose interest in the things you typically enjoy or feel like you want to crawl into your bed for the entirety of winter?

If so, you may struggle with SAD.

Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is linked to the changing of seasons and most often occurs during the fall and winter. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies SAD under major depressive or bipolar disorders with a specifier of “with seasonal pattern.”

As with many mental health issues, there may be a stigma around acknowledging that one struggles with SAD, but identification and diagnosis are key to getting help and support.

Living in the Heber Valley, we are more at risk to struggle with SAD. This is due to living at high altitude and living farther away from the equator. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there is an established correlation of increased SAD diagnosis for those that live farther north or south of the equator.

The NIMH recognizes other risk factors for SAD, including being female (females are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than males), having depression or bipolar disorders, and age (young adults are more at risk than older adults).

The causes of SAD are unknown but biological associations have been established with lower levels of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes us feel “happy”), higher levels of melatonin (less sunlight is linked to an increase in melatonin production) and lower levels of Vitamin D. Diagnosis and education are key to reducing symptoms of SAD and addressing treatment options.

Treating SAD and the Importance of Self-Care

The most effective treatments for SAD include talk therapy, medication and light therapy. Speaking with a professional counselor can also help address self-care and coping skills. Medication can lessen the symptoms of SAD and medical professionals often prescribe SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) for depression and SAD. SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain.

Light therapy can also be an effective treatment. Light therapy involves being exposed to bright, artificial light on a daily basis for 20 to 60 minutes. Light therapy lamps can be purchased online and have been found to be very effective in treating SAD.

Whether we struggle with SAD or not, it is especially important to take care of ourselves over the winter months and holidays. During the holiday season, we tend to spend increased time with family and friends. This may cause additional stress and anxiety during an already overwhelming time of the year.

The weather can also affect our mood and complicate stress and anxiety. During the winter, we tend to stay indoors and may become less active than other seasons of the year. For many of us, however, being outdoors and active is therapeutic and can boost our serotonin levels.

Be Kind to Yourself

Self-care and self-compassion are critical for everyone — whether you struggle with SAD or not. It is empowering to recognize the need to care for ourselves and be intentional in doing so. It is not selfish to care for yourself — it is the greatest gift you could ever give yourself and those around you.

The Heber Valley has an amazing network of clinicians and is a great place to stay active and healthy during the winter months. So, get outside, enjoy the beautiful, crisp fresh air and soak up some sunlight. And if you or someone you love struggles with SAD, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family, or seek professional support. It’s okay to ask for help.