If you’re feeling blue now that the holidays are over, you’re not alone. Lots of people feel a bit low as the days get darker and colder. But while many experience the winter blues, there are some who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is more severe. SAD can be quite debilitating and can cause feelings of sadness, irritability, sluggishness, and eating and sleep disturbances.
Although it’s likely to be caused by multiple factors, seasonal affective disorder has been most closely linked to lessened exposure to light since the days get shorter and darker throughout the fall and winter. This could lead to a cascade of physiological changes, including a disruption of the circadian rhythms, lower vitamin D levels, dysregulation of serotonin, and overproduction of melatonin. Couple this with post-holiday blues and a dislike of cold temperature, and you may find yourself begging for warmer, longer, sunnier days.
While SAD could affect anybody, the people who are more likely to be affected are female, living farther from the equator, with a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder, and younger in age. As a psychiatrist, I screen regularly for SAD in my patients and, over my years of practice, I have discovered many evidence-supported ways to help them maintain their mental health and well-being even over those darkest months. Here are some tried-and-true tips: