Nix Winter Melancholy

Seasonal affective disorder can be battled with a light exercise and friends

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Winter can slow people down a bit. It has to do with the brain adjusting to less sunlight, but there are tricks to help keep spirits up through the winter months.

Mayo Clinic psychiatrists give tips for coping with seasonal affective disorder. Follow his recommendations to help elevate mood and avoid the winter blues this holiday season and for many to come.

"Talk to a doctor if SAD symptoms worsen."

Mark Frye, MD, chair of the psychiatry and psychology department at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and William Weggel, MD, a psychiatrist within the Mayo Clinic Health System, offer tips for dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The winter blues can result from a number of seasonal changes. Fewer hours of daylight, colder weather and less outdoor activity can lead to a specific type of depression.

SAD has a gender gap with 75 percent of cases being female. It is rather common, with estimates as high as 20 percent of the US population experiencing symptoms at some point. It’s no surprise that SAD is so widespread, as weather and seasonal conditions affect all living things with respect to location.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling tired or sluggish
  • Eating too much
  • Sleeping too much
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Trouble concentrating

Region is a major factor for SAD. People in the warm, sunny south are less likely to experience SAD compared to people in northern areas with harsher winter climates.

Shorter days and cloudy skies limit the amount of sunlight during the winter in certain regions. Sunlight entering the eyes tells the brain to produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is a mood elevator. Less light means less serotonin.

In darkness, the brain produces melatonin to help promote sleep. Changes in light can disrupt the natural production of wake/sleep neurotransmitter production which can lead to SAD.

Dr. Frye’s tips for preventing or beating SAD included:

Exposure to light:

Natural light is a great mood elevator. Take a morning, lunch or mid-afternoon walk to soak up a few sunshine rays. The fresh air won’t hurt either.

If natural light is not an option, there are mechanical light therapies available for home or office use. Look online for light therapy boxes.

Exercise:

There is no substitute for regular exercise. Exercise is good for all functioning physiological systems in the body as well as mental and emotional wellbeing. Dr. Frye suggests a minimum of three 30-minute exercise sessions per week.

Don’t’ be a hermit:

Social interaction with friends and/or family can transport the mind in ways that can’t be done in solitude. Social support and engagement can boost the mind and bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy day.

When SAD begins to interfere with work responsibilities or personal relationships: it’s time to get help. Dr. Frye recommends reaching out immediately if feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm begin.

Dr. Weggel said, “There are many people who experience winter blues. However, there are those who are experiencing more serious symptoms. The good news is that in most cases, we are able to find a treatment plan to help the patient through the winter months.”

This press release was published in December on the Mayo Clinic website.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
December 23, 2012