How to Beat the Winter Blues

Some of us are happy with the leaves changing and the promise of snow in the future, but some of us get the winter blues. Fall and Winter also mark the beginning of flu season, don’t forget to come get a flu shot at Bremo. You may not realize this, but the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder are very real problems.

 

What is the winter blues? Many of us have felt it, which is a depressed mood during the fall and winter months. We want to hunker down inside all day due to the days being shorter and colder weather. This becomes a problem when you start to notice that you feel down and notice a lack of energy every season.

If you find that your symptoms always come with the change in daylight and weather, then you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a form of depression. People in higher latitudes are more likely to experience this disorder. For example, on average people in Florida are less likely to experience seasonal depression than those of us that live in Virginia. Women are 4 times more likely to experience SAD than men.

Symptoms that you may experience while going through seasonal depression may include, but are not limited to:

  • Sadness
  • A gloomy outlook on life
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Weight gain
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
    • If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek medical attention immediately and call 1-800-273-8255 the national suicide hotline

Researchers believe that SAD is connected with an imbalance of serotonin (a chemical that affects the mood) and high levels of melatonin (a chemical that makes you tired). As well as, low amounts of vitamin D because of less sunlight during fall and winter.

 

There are many effective treatments for SAD. These may include: exercise and regular sleep, light therapy, talking with someone, vitamin D, and prescription medication for your mood. The first recommendation to beat SAD is to be active. Activities, like walking your dog or taking a walk with friends or on your own, provide a good amount of exercise that releases endorphins. Endorphins are natural mood-lifting molecules that our bodies make. Walking outside also provides access to sunlight which we do not get enough of in the fall and winter months. Talking through what you are going through with a friend or family member can also lift your mood. Try to join activities that will get you out into the community and away from the house.

 

Another non-medication method to try is light therapy and it may work for some people with SAD. This type of therapy works in theory by restoring the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep cycle back to normal. It is important to note that lightboxes are not FDA approved. You should ask your doctor before trying them because the risks could outweigh the benefits in certain medical conditions like bipolar disorder, glaucoma, and diabetes. You have to do your research on which lightboxes are the best for SAD. Avoid using lamps that emit too much ultraviolet light. Tips for using the lamps are to use within one hour of waking up. Then within that hour, use the lamp for 30 minutes, and make sure to not directly look into the light.

 

If these lifestyle modifications are not enough and you are still feeling down, then there are additional therapies that you can combine with lifestyle modifications. In the fall and winter months, we now know that our bodies are making less vitamin D. New research has shown that vitamin D receptors are in our brains and that vitamin D may help increase molecules in the brain that improve our mood. The best way to determine if this is happening to you is to ask your doctor to measure your vitamin D level. Then, we can determine a good dose of vitamin D to give you daily. Talk to your Bremo pharmacist about were you can find these vitamins in the store.

 

Antidepressant medication such as bupropion and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (drug class that includes fluoxetine and drugs like it) have also shown promise in treating SAD. These medications require a discussion with your doctor and a prescription before you can use them. SSRIs also take about 4 to 6 weeks before you start to notice symptom improvement so trial the drug before you decide to discontinue it. You should complete the trial period, because after that 4 weeks you may start to see your symptoms improve.

 

Seasonal affective disorder is real and affects the daily lives of many Americans. It is important to notice how you are feeling every day. If you discover a pattern of feeling depressed or a lack of hope during the fall and winter months then you could have SAD. Talk with your doctor or Bremo pharmacist if you think this sounds like you.  To learn more, check out the National Institute of Mental Health’s website https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

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