We’ve had a remarkably tough winter here in Atlanta with four snow storms that have accumulated – and several more that didn’t stick on the ground. If you don’t know Georgia, you might not realize how amazing that kind of snowfall is. On top of that, we’ve had really cold weather for the sunny south, with weeks of night time temperatures in the teens. Yet, now the temp is around 60 degrees out. I’m positive that the cold weather is NOT over and when it comes back, everyone but me will be suffering from varying degrees of winter depression. Why not me? Because I love and adore cold weather! Not the Yukon type, although I did live in Ottawa, Canada, which had weeks – perhaps months – when we didn’t get out of the minus numbers. Still, I’m sympathetic to winter depression, as long as you hot weather types will be sympathetic to my disease of ‘summer depression’, which hits around mid-July. :-)
The Symptoms of Winter Depression
More seriously, though, what are the symptoms of winter depression besides an overwhelming desire to drag your shorts out of the closet? Naturally, they vary from person to person but here is a fairly common list:
Stress and more stress
A frequent of strong urge to cry
Less interest in sex
Feeling exhausted and tired, even when you first get up in the morning
A larger appetite than in the summer
Craving junk food
Feeling bad about yourself
Low, low energy
Craving lots of unhealthy junk food
You might be thinking that you have these symptoms a lot of the year, anyway, and winter isn’t the only time. In fact, those symptoms are common in depression and anxiety in general. But there are two distinctions that might indicate winter depression. The first is that you get these symptoms year after year. It isn’t just THIS year that’s driving you crazy – it happens just about every year in January and February (and perhaps March and April, if you live in the north).
Secondly, if the early darkness is almost intolerable. The days begin to length during the winter solstice which is December 20-22 but it will be weeks before the change is noticeable.
Winter Depression Isn’t An Imaginary Ailment
Actually, winter depression is more commonly known as SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and it’s related to hormones, specifically those in the brain. We may not realize it, but our hormones are key to many facets of our body’s health and their production is fueled – or not – by sunlight. Here are three keys.
Serotonin is one of the "feel good" hormones and it also affects your sleep patterns and appetite. There is a direct connection between these hormones and depression and, in fact, what the famous anti-depressant drugs do is to mimic the action of serotonin, which is naturally produced by the body.
Melatonin is necessary for sleep, as people who work at night, and sleep during the day, have discovered. Melatonin is necessary for sound sleep and its production ramps up when darkness descends. So, more darkness = more melatonin, which makes you sleepy.
We all possess a circadian rhythm which is our internal clock and gives us an approximate idea of the time. When we change to daylight savings, and back again, the time seems strange. We may feel it’s mid afternoon – but it’s almost dinner time. Of course, we adjust quickly but the first feelings of strangeness are real.
The most common treatment – and most effective – is to add sunlight to your life. SAD light is much cheaper, safer and healthier than taking drugs! SAD light will normalize your hormones and relieve many of the distressing symptoms. It’s so effective, that if you begin early enough this autumn of 2011, you most likely won’t have winter depression, or SAD, at all next cold season.