Winter depression: imagination or reality

Seasonal affective disorder is a condition marked by the onset of depression during the late fall and early winter months when there is less natural sunlight. This is thought to occur when the body’s daily rhythms become out of sync due to reduced sun exposure.

Some people who suffer from depression all year round get worse in the winter, while others experience depression only during the cold, dark months. Even studies show that during the summer months, rich in sunlight and warmth, far fewer people suffer from any psychological disorders. Some experts say seasonal affective disorder affects up to 3% of the US population, or about 9 million people, while others experience milder forms of winter depressive disorder. 

So, the deterioration of mood in autumn and winter is not just imagination, but a real ailment? 

Exactly. This “winter depression” was first identified by a team of researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health in 1984. They found that the trend is seasonal and changes occur to varying degrees, sometimes with moderate intensity, sometimes with severe mood swings.

  • Desire to sleep a lot
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Gaining excess weight
  • Decreased interest in social activities

The syndrome occurs more often in residents of northern latitudes. Due to hormonal factors, women suffer from seasonal disorder more often than men. However, seasonal depression decreases after menopause in women.

Should I take antidepressants?

You can start taking antidepressants or increase the dose you are already taking, if your doctor sees fit. But it is better to ask your doctor to assess your condition. A study published in Biological Psychiatry found that taking medication in the fall before the onset of seasonal depression could help. In three different studies, patients with seasonal affective disorder took antidepressants from the fall and experienced less depression in late fall and early winter compared to those who did not.

Do I need to go to psychotherapy sessions in winter?

Of course, you can go to a psychotherapist to keep your mental health in good shape. But there is another, less costly and more workable idea that some therapists have come up with. Do your “homework” which includes keeping a mood journal to identify when a bad mood occurs, analyze it and try to evaluate and then change your negative thoughts. Try to reduce the tendency to be depressed. Make an effort to stop “ruminating” – going over the upset incident or your shortcomings – all the things that make you feel worse. 

Can anything else be done?

Light therapy has proven effective for treating seasonal depression. It can be combined with conventional psychotherapy and melatonin supplements, which can help synchronize the body clock.

But in order not to resort to such measures (and not to look for a light therapy office in your city), get more natural sunlight, even if there is not much of it. Go outside more often, dress warmly and walk. It also helps to maintain social activity and communicate with friends.

Physical activity, as everyone knows, helps to release more hormones of happiness. And this is what you need in the winter. Plus, exercise boosts your immune system.

Most experts recommend a diet with enough complex carbohydrate foods (whole grains and grain products) and protein. Put aside sources of simple carbohydrates, such as candy, cookies, waffles, Coca-Cola and other foods that your body does not need. Load up on fruits (preferably seasonal ones like persimmons, feijoas, figs, pomegranates, tangerines) and vegetables, drink more water, herbal teas, and less coffee.   

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