Have you ever felt like you had the “winter blues” or just can't shake a sad winter mood? Consult with a trained professional first, but you could have seasonal affective disorder.
This kind of depression happens during the winter season when daylight hours are shorter. About 5% of people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), according to an article in American Family Physician, and SAD is more common in women than men. There is some concern that the pandemic will aggravate seasonal affective disorder, due to increased anxiety, stress and isolation.
Dr. Arpit Aggarwal, an MU psychiatrist, said seasonal depression gets worse and better during the summer. This is more common the farther north you are because of longer winters and less sunlight.
Some of the symptoms include mood changes, attitude changes, weight gain, irritability, low energy levels during the winter and improved symptoms during the summer, according to an article by the Journal of Affective Disorders.
One of the treatments? Getting more light — either outdoors or indoors via special lamps. “Light therapy (also called phototherapy) is usually the first line treatment for seasonal depression,” writes Aggarwal in an email. So-called happy lights are available to buy on Amazon.
Jared Torbet, owner of the Anxiety and Depression Clinic in Columbia, recommends a combination of phototherapy and exercise. Torbet says phototherapy helps with "a good level of vitamin D3 in our blood stream.”
Vitamin D deficiency is "a lot more common than people realize,” Torbet said. A Mercy Medical Center article says 42% of the U.S. population is vitamin D deficient, which is linked to depression, lack of energy and mood swings. In addition to getting Vitamin D from our food, the body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which is lessened in the winter. If you need to increase your vitamin D levels, Torbet recommends talking to your physician about taking supplements.
The other major component of the Torbet's protocol is exercise. Exercise is a great way to reduce depressive symptoms. Torbet suggests exercising three times a week at a moderate to high intensity level for at least 30 minutes.
Torbet believes seasonal affective disorder won’t increase due to the pandemic because he’s seen more people get outside to take walks or just get fresh air.
However, Aggarwal believes it is difficult to measure increases in SAD rates. “It is difficult to say whether there will be truly a seasonal affective disorder increase or will it just be an increase in anxiety and depression due to the stress of the pandemic,” Aggarwal says.