Out of the Dark
It’s winter in Cleveland, and that means shorter days and much colder temperatures. An 8:00 a.m. sun rise means most northern Ohioans are waking up in the dark, and a winter forecast of overcast skies can pervade a gray gloom over the Forest City. As the days get shorter and temperatures continue to drop in northern Ohio, many people may have already begun showing signs of seasonal depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, a mood disorder associated with changing seasons, can take on many of the same symptoms of depression. Read more to discover how you can get out of the dark and overcome seasonal depression.
SAD Symptoms Mirror Depression
Your winter blues could be more than a temporary state of unhappiness. According to the National Mental Health Disorders Association, mild forms of seasonal depression affect 10 to 20 percent of the population; nearly five percent of the population suffers from a more severe form of SAD. Women are the most common demographic affected by seasonal depression, making up nearly 75 percent of SAD cases nationally. Seasonal depression can strike at any age but most commonly affects people in their 20s, 30s or 40s. As one might expect, seasonal depression is more common in northern America. Statistics estimate that only one percent of Florida residents are affected by SAD, while nearly 10 percent of Alaskans suffer annually from seasonal depression.
Though an innate cause of SAD has not been found, the influence of a person’s latitude on their likelihood of suffering from seasonal depression provides psychologists with a probable correlation between the prevalence of sunlight and warmer temperatures and a person’s mood.
Recognizing SAD symptoms is the first step in overcoming this disorder. According to the Cleveland Clinic, SAD symptoms mirror those of depression and include the following:
- Increased need for sleep
- Decreased levels of energy
- Weight gain
- Increased appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased desire to be alone
Beating the Winter Blues
There are simple things you can do if you are suffering from the winter blues or more extreme cases of seasonal depression. If symptoms persist or get worse, consult with a professional for further treatment.
- Light therapy: The lack of sunlight is thought to be the leading cause of seasonal depression. A quick and easy way to reverse SAD symptoms is to infuse light back in your day. Experts suggest that increased exposure to full-spectrum light can actually help alleviate many of the effects of seasonal depression. Many physicians recommend a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of light exposure each day with a minimum light intensity of 10,000 Lux in order to sway symptoms of seasonal depression. Light therapy is a safe method of treating SAD, and patients usually reach full benefits within two to four weeks of starting treatment.
- Vitamin D: Many people with SAD have a vitamin D deficiency because they are not getting enough sunlight or eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon and other fish, eggs, orange juice and milk. Increasing your vitamin D intake can serve as a natural mood enhancer if your exposure to sunlight is limited. Many medical professionals consider vitamin D to be a “sunshine vitamin,” and it is linked to depression and mood regulation as well as a variety of other health benefits that can boost your overall sense of well-being. Talk with your doctor before you infuse a vitamin D supplement into your daily routine, as too much of this mineral could be toxic.
- Exercise: Regular exercise has long been considered a positive mood enhancer, as it releases endorphins that can improve your state of mind. It also provides many other benefits that will improve your overall health, giving your confidence and mood a much needed boost.
- Laughter: A natural mood enhancer is the simple act of laughing. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, which helps support a positive sense of well-being. Experts suggest that just 10 minutes of laughter a day will help keep the winter blues away.
Preventing the Onset of Seasonal Depression
Whether you’ve been previously diagnosed with SAD or fear you are showing symptoms of the disorder, there are things you can do to lighten your mood and prevent seasonal depression from settling in. Make sure you are spending time outside every day, even on cloudy or overcast days. Using a light box or other light therapy techniques can make up for the loss of daylight during the winter months, giving you and your body the benefits of sun-synthesis. Eat a balanced diet that is fortified with vitamins and minerals linked to mood enhancement, such as vitamin D and B, and exercise regularly. Your social circle can provide much needed support and encouragement during down times. Stay engaged with family and friends for positive effects on your well-being during winter months.
People affected with seasonal depression are suffering from more than a case of cabin fever and should take action to come out of the dark. If symptoms persist or get worse during the winter months, you should seek the help of a professional to improve your state of mind.
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