Here in Colorado and in many other places, it feels like winter has arrived after a mild weather November. The days are getting shorter and that will continue for another month, while colder weather and snow become the norm. Many of us feel a sense of “winter blues” as warm, sunny days give way to winter chills. These “winter blues” are not uncommon, can range in severity from mild to severe, and are medically referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): a syndrome characterized by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year, especially during the fall, winter and early spring.
Causes of SAD
Despite lots of research, the specific cause(s) of SAD remains unknown. However, it’s thought that the decrease in sunlight results in:
- Disruption in biological clock (circadian rhythm) – the decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Dropping serotonin levels – a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels – the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- 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
How to Find Relief
- Exercise regularly by walking 20 minutes, 5-7 days per week, in the morning or when there is the most sunlight.
- Practice meditation techniques, yoga, breathing techniques.
Regulating Your Rhythms and Sleep Cycle
- Spend time near windows to allow exposure to natural light.
- Consider “light therapy,” sitting or working near an artificial light box that mimics natural, outdoor light on a daily basis.
- Try to go to bed earlier and get up earlier when there are more daylight hours. Avoid naps during the day, which can interfere with sleep in the evening.
- Pay attention to what you’re eating. In wintertime we are often drawn to warm, heavy comfort foods that promote inflammation and depression. Here are a couple links that we really like which offer some suggestions for a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.
- Consider supplements
- Melatonin – regulates circadian rhythm which may be off during winter months and is especially important for SAD. Research shows that doses of 0.25 – 0.5 mg taken between 8-9pm are most effective. Both the timing and the dosage are important.
- Vitamin D3 – levels go down without exposure to sunshine. Most of us need supplementation, especially in the winter time. Check with your doctor, sometimes large doses (e.g. 10,000 units orally daily or even an injection) may be necessary to achieve an adequate level.
- Stay connected to friends and family through phone calls, texts, email, video conferencing. Enjoy the warmth of family, friends or any activity that brings positivity to your life.
- Avoid screen time as much as you can, especially for an hour before bed. If you do choose to watch TV or get online, choose something light or humorous. Laughing is very good medicine!
- Get professional help if you feel overwhelmed.
Those who suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder may suffer even more extreme symptoms with SAD, and may benefit from additional treatment modalities, including ketamine infusions. Ketamine treatments an effective way to alleviate depression, and they oftentimes alleviate symptoms in as a few as 1-2 infusions. Either on its own or in combination with other treatments, ketamine has been shown to be a lifesaver for those suffering from debilitating depression, anxiety and/or chronic pain.
If you are feeling anxious or depressed—especially as a result of the changing seasons and current global health crisis—contact us for a consultation on the best treatment for you. We offer acupuncture, ketamine infusions and integrative medicine at our clinic. We are taking extra steps to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.