Chantelle K. Dockter,
MA Licensed Professional Counselor
Question: I am normally an upbeat, happy person, however I have noticed that in the winter I don’t have much energy and I often feel sad for no apparent reason. Usually by the time school is out I am fine, but this year it hasn’t gone away yet. Any thoughts?
Answer: Assuming there are not physical or hormonal causes contributing to your symptoms, I would strongly hunch that you are being affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that occurs in relation to the seasons, most commonly beginning in winter. SAD can begin in the fall for some, and in very rare circumstances can be brought on by the summer.
Many people have heard the term SAD but are not familiar with the symptoms or treatment. Symptoms can include:
• Afternoon slumps with a decrease in energy and concentration
• Slow, lethargic movement
• Lack of energy
• Increase in sleep overall, often including daytime sleepiness
• Decrease interest in activities previously enjoyed
• Increase in appetite, often resulting in weight gain
• Social withdrawal
• Carbohydrate cravings
• Depression that starts in the fall or winter
I have been an Oregonian almost all of my life, and personally love the variety of seasons, particularly the cool, gray months. My poor husband moved here from the beautiful and ever-sunny San Diego, and dreads the winter months. He is quick to remind me that I must be pretty special if he moved to “gloomy Oregon” for me! This year has been especially tough for him, as well as many of the clients I see. For many people this is attributed to the unusually long, dark, wet winter we have had here in Oregon. May and June typically yield at least some teasing days of summer to come, yet this year those have been noticeably absent.
SAD is a particularly challenging form of depression in that you can’t change the weather, precipitation, or amount of sun. Moving is not typically the most viable option for folks either. So what CAN we do?
To start, see your PCP to rule out any physical/hormonal contributing factors. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and ask if SAD may be the culprit. Symptoms typically get better on their own, when the seasons change. Cases range from mild to more severe, so treatment plans vary. As with many things, a greater percentage of women are affected than men (lucky us…).
• Get adequate rest, but not too much. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Stay on a consistent sleep schedule and avoid day-time naps.
• Eat fresh, nutritious food. Limit the garbage, such as fried food, as those foods weigh you down.
• Take vitamins. These can help fill in any deficiencies that you aren’t getting from food.
• Get exercise daily. This helps ALL forms of depression.
• Plan your Hawaiian get-away (or any other vacation that takes you to a sunny destination) for the winter months. It can give you something to look forward to, get you some much-needed Vitamin D, and boost your spirits.
• Light therapy uses a special lamp to mimic light from the sun. Sitting in front of this lamp for a short period of time daily has reportedly been helpful for some.
• In more extreme cases, medication and talk therapy may be needed. SAD is a form of depression and left untreated for some can cause problems in all domains of life.
Those dealing with SAD need to plan ahead for how to face the challenging months of winter, as it does seem to be re-occurring each year for many. The above ideas should be helpful…as well as a lot of prayer that God will send the sun! I am encouraged that as I write this article, the sun is beaming down from the bright blue sky. Ahhhh…..
Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, LPC
Associate of Christian Counseling Centers of OR and WA, CCCOW.org