Puxsutawney Phil, the official weather groundhog of the U.S., has seen his shadow and that means six more weeks of winter! For people who like the cold and snow, this is exciting. But, if you’re like me and despise the cold, it means six whole weeks until the sun comes out and the temperatures start climbing. For some, this six weeks can be critical to your mental health as the winter blues sink further in.
When you’re stuck inside for an extended period of time, devoid of sunshine, it’s easy to slip into a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
The Mayo Clinic defines SAD as “a type or depression that’s related to changes in seasons.” Symptoms can include irritability, low energy, problems getting along with people, hypersensitivity to rejection, oversleeping, appetite changes and weight gain. Young women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men.
So what causes SAD and how do you combat it? When the sun doesn’t shine, it can mess up your circadian rhythm (that clock inside you that tells you when you should go to sleep and wake up). When your internal clock stops working properly, your body and hormones go on the fritz, which can lead to feelings of depression. Lack of sunshine can also lead to decreases in the hormones serotonin (stabilizes your mood) and increases in melatonin (helps you sleep). With unstable moods and the desire to sleep more, it’s no wonder you may be irritable or depressed!
So how do you combat the winter blues? If you feel depressed for an extended period of time, go see your doctor and they can help you out either with light therapy, medications or psychotherapy. Increases in vitamin D consumption may also be able to help since it aids in the production of serotonin, but talk to your doctor before buying supplements because too much vitamin D can be dangerous.
A lot of people no longer experience SAD once spring comes and the sun starts shining. Just remember, even though it may only be seasonal, it doesn’t mean it’s not real and you shouldn’t seek help if you need it.
So here’s to six more weeks of winter and good mental health!