We as a species are creatures of light, so the shortened hours of light in the winter effect many of us, some of us mildly, some of us severely.
According to Wikipedia (SAD) stands for Seasonal affective disorder also known as winter depression or the winter blues. (SAD) was first reported and named in the early 1980’s by Norman E. Rosenthal and his colleagues at the NIMH (National Institutional of Mental Health). Rosenthal’s 1993 book: Winter Blues has become the standard introduction on the subject. Other interesting facts about (SAD) are that women seem to be effected by it more than men though no one knows precisely why, an estimated 10% of people in the Netherlands have it. In The United States, 8.9% of Alaskans report it compared to an average of 6.1% of people who live in other states.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine note that some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. Symptoms may include sleeping too much, difficulty getting up in the morning, lack of energy, a craving for carbohydrates causing weight gain, eating more or less than usual, difficulty completing tasks, withdrawal from friends, family and social activities, a depressed mood, or a pessimistic viewpoint is common.
In my over twenty-five years as a mental health clinician I found that people who have mild symptoms are greatly helped by exercise: especially outdoors. People who enjoy skiing, ice skating, snowboarding or sledding are the least effected. For the rest of us taking a walk outside when its sunny, or even sitting on a bench for 15 minutes can be helpful, if you work indoors do this during your lunch break, or get some errands done in daylight hours. If you spend your days at home, try sitting or working near windows with the most natural light, and walking outdoors if you are able. If you decorate your house during the winter holidays consider leaving your indoor lights up longer. Vitamin D is a good supplement to take during the winter months to prevent or ease symptoms. If you can, plan a vacation to a warmer climate during the winter. You will not only enjoy the vacation itself but the anticipation of it will make the colder months seem shorter.
Most people who are severely affected by (SAD) also have been diagnosed with either depression or a mood disorder. These individuals may need additional medication during the winter months. Anti-depressives containing serotonin have been found to be helpful in managing their symptoms. Bright light therapy is an additional option, although this involves
the expense of buying a light box and sitting with eyes open at a prescribed distance away from it for 30 to 60 minutes a day. I have observed that this is inconvenient for most people and they either stop using it or use it for shorter periods of time. One woman I know who kept it up with positive results said that she uses the time to listen to her favorite music and that makes the sitting more enjoyable. A newer option is using a computer-controlled heliostat to reflect sunlight into the windows of a home or office.
Handicapped individuals and older people who have trouble shoveling, putting out their garbage safely, getting to their mail boxes, or walking on snow or ice frequently express a lower mood during the colder months. Being sensitive to your friends, family or neighbors who may need assistance can elevate moods for both of you. I have heard stories in my practice and in my personal life from elders who rave about the younger friend or relative who offered to drive them to church, or to do errands, or invited them in to have a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Let us remember it is better (at least sometimes) to give than to receive. Also keep in mind spring will come again, it happens year after year.