Is it Blue Monday or the Winter Blues Making you SAD?
Blue Monday just passed and thank goodness it is behind us! Blue Monday is the term given to the third Monday in January. Blue Monday is said to be the most depressing day of the year due to a formula of post-holiday blues (including not starting one’s resolutions), plus the return to work and school for many, plus the arrival of credit card bills from the holiday season. Created by Cliff Arnall, Blue Monday is not a very scientific term yet it has been recognized since 2005. What is very scientific and real is the depression many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. If you’re like most people, you want to stay in more often when it starts getting cold. Some of you may even get the “winter blues” every year—you don’t want to leave your house, you eat carb loaded comfort food, and you sleep longer than normal. These symptoms may start in the late fall and continue into the winter months. “Winter blues” can drain your energy levels, making you feel tired, irritable and moody. If this is you, don’t ignore this yearly feeling or minimize it, because your “winter blues” can turn into SAD if left untreated and if you are at risk. The simplest way to know if your “winter blues” has turned into SAD is to ask yourself a question—“Are my symptoms interfering with my ability to function at home, work and/or in my relationships?” Some people do experience SAD in the Spring and Summer although it is not as common.
This week’s blog we will go over the symptoms of SAD, who’s at risk, when to see a doctor and some lifestyle and home modifications to help keep your mood consistent all year. They are NOT a substitute for medical treatment for bipolar or major depression.
- Signs and symptoms of SAD
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling less social
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Who is at Risk?
People who are most at risk for SAD are those with a family history of SAD, people with major depression or bipolar disorder, and those that live far from the equator.
When to see a doctor
Everybody goes through times when they feel sad and down; however, when those days turn into weeks and you don’t have the same energy to do activities you normally would, then you need to call your doctor. Especially if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you’ve turned to alcohol or recreational drugs for comfort, or you feel hopeless and have been thinking about suicide.
Lifestyle and Home Recommendations
- Make your home and office sunnier and brighter. Open blinds and curtains. Move your chair closer to your windows at home or in the office.
- Get outside. Don’t let the cold weather stop you this winter. Bundle up and go for a walk in the park or on the beach, even on those cloudy days. Being out in the sun helps boost serotonin which elevates your mood. It also helps our bodies produce Vitamin D. The best time to be outside is within the first couple of hours of getting up in the morning.
- Supplement with Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about getting your Vitamin D levels checked. Some studies have shown a link between low Vitamin D levels and depression. Plus it’ll help boost up your immune system. Recents studies have shown that low Vitamin D levels have been associated with more severe symptoms of COVID-19 and upper respiratory infections.
- Exercise 20-30 minutes a day regularly. Research shows a strong mind-body health connection, especially for those with depression and anxiety. Exercise is often referred to as a natural antidepressant. It increases serotonin and endorphins, which gives our mood (and body) a boost.
- Eat a balanced diet. Avoid starchy sugary snacks. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Meal prep. Do not self medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs.
- Learn stress management techniques. Not dealing with stress can lead to depression, overeating, weight gain, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.Socialize (Virtually due to COVID-19) When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be around others. Due to COVID-19, we’ve been isolated more than ever. Make an effort to virtually connect with people you enjoy being with. Make it a regular meeting whether on FaceTime or Zoom.
- Go to sleep and wake up the same time every day. Sleeping the same amount of hours every night will help normalize your circadian rhythms.
Complications because of COVID-19 restrictions may make the “winter blues” worse. Social distancing plus remote learning and working from home have left many of us isolated, some more isolated than others. While some can cope, others may not which can lead to more stress, anxiety, overeating, self-medicating and depression. Less people are going to their doctors and leaving their homes for fear of contracting COVID-19. Conditions that could be easily treated pre COVID-19 are going untreated post COVID-19. If you’ve had thoughts of suicide or feelings of hopelessness, please consult a doctor immediately. Or Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– 800-273-TALK (8255).