Beating the Winter Blues

It is a well observed fact that people feel more depressed and suicide rates increase in the winter months especially in those countries where there are long winters.  So, how does that affect us?  Our body notices the light that it gets and increased daylight helps us to regulate our moods well.

With the decreased light in winter many people experience an increase of depressed mood and find that they can lose interest in activities they enjoy or find it hard to concentrate.  Their sleep can be more disturbed, and they can have poor concentration.  What can help?  In many countries therapy such as using powerful lights for a few hours a day is used to improve mood in winters. Light therapy can be used if the symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are affecting a person’s life to a large extent.  For the winter blues, or mild symptoms of SAD, some simple lifestyle changes can bring good cheer to the winter months.  Start a daily exercise routine and make sure you get about 30 minutes of exercise a day.  Try and regulate your bedtime as this helps your body clock to work best.  Importantly, spend some time in the sun.  What better than to soak up the sun and have a break from the grey Melbourne winters.  When you feel that you cannot shake SAD symptoms, be sure to see a psychologist and ask for help.

Psychologists point out that there is a difference in feeling blue at times, after holidays or if you are tired.  This is often temporary and will go away once you have a break or adjust to your routine.  More serious conditions such as being depressed, seasonal affective disorder and having anxiety can last for longer periods of time.  And for those who already have psychological stresses, seasonal affective symptoms can make things worse. Even “having fun” can be a stress if that fun involves missing sleep, irregular routine, or overuse of alcohol or “party foods.”

According to several studies people who seek help from psychologists and use CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) with lifestyle changes show the least symptoms of depressed mood, anxiety, and seasonal affective symptoms after a year.  There are several things we can all do to help fight off those seasonal affective blues. Make sure your expectations of your feelings are not critical and negative self-talk can be very harmful to one’s own emotional health. If you have a close family member or friend, you may want to find ways to connect and engage in positive activities that build our connections to others. Try to maintain your normal routine as much as possible. Pay attention to your feelings and do not ignore them. If you can’t seem to keep the blues away, your feelings may indicate other things in your life are not going right.

More serious depression can be linked to feelings of SAD when feelings of sadness last for at more than two weeks or longer.  It is also important to know that our mood interferes with activities of daily living and it effects how we work, or eat, and sleep.  If the winter blues seem to linger or become more intense, you may want to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist. A psychologist can help determine if someone has depression and how best to treat it.  Talk to someone today and get on top of those blues!

Written by

Dr. Raj Khillan

Director Western Specialist Centre

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