The winter months have long been associated with depression due to cold weather, holiday stress, and social isolation, however physicians have recently discovered that decreased sunlight exposure due to shorter days may play a significant role in mental health.
This phenomenon, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), colloquially known as “the winter blues” and classified as a subtype of major depression, is believed to be a product of reduced sunlight exposure and physical activity throwing off our internal clock, as well as lowering our body’s concentration of serotonin and melatonin, important chemicals that help regulate our moods.
In the following blog, we will look at the symptoms of SAD, as well as ways you can protect yourself and loved ones from being impacted by this seasonal challenge.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
The shorter winter daylight cycle, decreased serotonin/melatonin levels and an upsetting of the body’s internal clock can manifest in the following symptoms:
– Loss of appetite.
– Changes in sleep patterns, especially oversleeping.
– Low energy, irritability, and feelings of sadness for several days or weeks at a time.
– The recurrence of these symptoms during a specific time of year for at least two years.
These symptoms are particularly dangerous for older people affected by SAD, as they can contribute to lowering one’s natural defenses against seasonal illnesses like influenza and COVID-19. Additionally, if a SAD sufferer is already taking prescription medication, commonly-prescribed antidepressants might not be a viable solution.
Fortunately, doctors now have an alternative to antidepressants in the form of light therapy – a process in which the patient sits in front of a small light box, which replicates the same wavelengths as natural sunlight, for about 15 to 30 minutes a day. A trial published in 2006 by the American Journal of Psychiatry found that light therapy had a comparable success rate as fluoxetine-based antidepressants like Prozac or Sarafem.
Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder
Even if you or a loved one do not suffer from SAD, a little bit of sunshine in the winter does not hurt. To keep your spirits (and melatonin levels) up, try the following:
– Spend a little time every day outside, especially within two hours of waking up.
– Sit near bright windows at home or at work to make the most out of each day’s sunlight.
– Stay active! Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy sleep pattern and improves your immune system.
If you are concerned that a loved one is susceptible to SAD or other winter-related hazards, consider calling SelectCare to learn how our team of home healthcare experts can provide support. Our staff has spent 36 years helping New Yorkers stay healthy and active year-round, allowing you and your loved ones to live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes.