The Winter Blues
For many people the passing of summer and approaching of winter, is a sad thought. Out with the bathers and in with the beanies! The days are shorter and the nights are colder, leaving less time for outdoor activities and socialising. This is often referred to by lay people as the ‘winter blues’.
For some people though, winter time brings with it, more than moments of ‘feeling blue’. For some, winter evokes feelings of sadness, depression, and guilt. This is called seasonal depression (previously known as Seasonal Affective Disorder). This condition has received a lot of attention from psychologists, researchers, and other health professionals and critics have questioned it’s legitimacy. The general consensus however, is that Seasonal Depression does exist!
In countries where it is cold for most of the year, and people experience limited sunshine, the prevalence of seasonal depression is higher. With our long summers and relatively mild winters rates of seasonal depression are lower in Australia than some other parts of the world, such as the U.K and parts of the U.S.A. Worldwide this condition affects around 500,000 people per year. This warrants awareness,
especially for those people with a history of depression, or with a tendency to experience the ‘winter blues’.
Signs of Seasonal Depression
Persistent sadness, guilt, fear, apathy, loneliness and hopelessness.
Increased sleep, and wanting to sleep more often.
Marked increase in food intake, binge eating, or loss of appetite.
Withdrawal from friends and/or family, increased avoidance of people, things or places that are uncomfortable, irritability, increased conflict in relationships.
Excessive worry or negative thoughts about yourself, the future, or the world/your life in general, difficulty concentrating, thoughts that everything is too hard.
fatigue, anxiety, nausea, headaches, a general feeling of being unwell.
Cause of Seasonal Depression
As summer passes and the days get shorter, our exposure to natural sunlight decreases too. This reduction in sunlight can lessen the amount of serotonin being produced in our bodies. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps us to feel happy, and is a protective factor against depression.
Less sunlight has also been linked to lower levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the chemical in our body that sets our circadian rhythm and promotes healthy sleep. So in short we can feel more sadness, and our sleep and appetite can be thrown out!
To date, these biological changes in our brain and body are considered the strongest determinant of seasonal depression.
Treatment for Seasonal Depression
Light Therapy: Which consists of a box shape device that gives off light, that mimics natural sunlight and can increase the production of serotonin and promote healthy melatonin levels.
Psychological interventions: Such as a Psychologist, to treat and manage the symptoms of seasonal depression. For people prone to seasonal depression, psychology is recommended prior to the onset of the condition, so perhaps towards the end of summer, and prior to winter.
Alternative therapies: such as Meditation, Yoga, floating, and/or Vitamin supplements.
Medication: Such as anti-depressants. If this was decided on with your GP, ,usually your GP will recommend beginning anti-depressants prior to the onset of seasonal depression, and often they only required temporarily.
Supporting yourself through the ‘Winter Blues’
Chat with a trusted friend, partner, or family member about the way you are feeling. Research indicates that social support is one of the most important protective factors for a person experiencing anxiety.
Get in touch with your strengths, tools, and resources. In the past what has helped you feel good within yourself? For some people it is exercise, for others it may be painting, cooking, or reading.
Book an appointment to see a health professional who is equipped to help people with mental illness. For example your doctor, or a psychologist.
Find a couple of quick and easy techniques that work for you. They are free, and readily available most places you go.
Self-Care! So important. Find what helps you relax... Find an activity, hobby, or resource that helps you nurture yourself and really love yourself. Reduce or avoid activities, people, or substances that do the opposite!
To book an appointment with Nicole discuss Seasonal Depression or ‘Winter Blues’, please contact Nicole on 0474323092, or email nicolehannpsychology@gmail.