Since the time change, I can’t count how many of my clients have come in and told me “I’m just feeling zonked this week” or “I just don’t feel like myself. It’s like I’m in a funk recently.” It’s no secret that we all tend to get a bit of the “Winter Blues.” [insert Jon Snow joke here] Whether that’s due to a more stretched budget for gifts, having to spend more than 24 hours with our mother-in-law, studying for finals, the lack of sunlight, or a combination of several of those, it’s quite common.
We can call it the “Winter Blues,” but it’s officially called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (ironic!?). Although the winter blues seem to affect most people to some extent, according to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) and the Mayo Clinic, it’s more common to be clinically significant in women. It is caused as a result of a decrease in Serotonin and Vitamin D (you know, that Vitamin that your doctor always tells you you’re low on) and increase in Melatonin around this time of year.
So how do I get off the couch? There have been studies, with not-so-astounding results, showing the effectiveness of light boxes or “phototherapy” per the Mayo Clinic. These are boxes that emit light that mimics the natural light of the sun and are recommended to be most effectively used in the morning. My one-participant study (my dad) of how effective they are is quoted as saying “No,” when asked about if they are effective. Not exactly meeting the threshold of sound clinical research, I know.
Of course, medication and psychotherapy are treatment recommendations as well. I think it’s important to be aware of whether you notice a pattern on a yearly basis. Does your mood tend to drop around this time of year? If so, try and be proactive with making sure that you start engaging in therapy or return to your psychiatric provider when Halloween costumes start to arrive in stores. Make sure that your circadian rhythm and daily schedule allow you the most sunlight possible and possibly shift your daily jog to the morning or keep your blinds in your office open all day. Most importantly, continue to participate in your life. The simple (yet hard to do) and most effective way of getting through depression is participating in your life. Don’t cancel your plans to go to dinner with a friend because Netflix on your cozy couch is so tempting. Don’t order delivery pizza every night instead of cooking a well-balanced meal. We are not bears and we should not hibernate! So, throw on those gloves, hat, and great new boots for the sake of your mental health!