Self Improvement — 10 January 2017
How to Cope with the “Winter Blues”

It is not uncommon for some people to state; “I don’t like winter”. The obvious reasons may be associated with shorter days, less sunshine, limited opportunities for daylight activities, longer evenings or early darkness. All these reasons are sensible and true. Yet, some people are not only unhappy about winter days but may actually be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a fall and winter depression that clears during spring and summer days. How do we know whether our reactions are a matter of preference or an aspect of SAD that needs to be managed differently?

Research done by Drs. Norman E. Rosenthal, David A. Sacks and seven associates defined Seasonal Affective Disorder as: “A syndrome characterized by recurrent depressions that occurs annually at the same time, manifested by: Hypersomnia, Overeating, Carbohydrate Craving, Sadness in response to changes in climate and latitude.” The researchers found that the extended use of bright artificial light had an antidepressant effect.

In “A SAD Tale”, Dr. Meir Kryger reports, “While the reduced amount of daylight during the winter plays an important role in SAD, the syndrome cannot be traced to the amount of daylight exposure alone.  Rather, recent research suggests susceptibility to SAD may be related to specialized cells in the retina that play a role in resetting our circadian clock as well as setting our mood.”

Researchers, Dr. Roecklein, Wong and Associates stated that “Though depression including mood changes, sleep patterns, appetite, and cognitive performance can be affected by the biological and behavioral responses to light, SAD symptoms may be related to variations of genes that may be responsible for resetting both our circadian clock as well as our mood.”

Regardless of the specific physiological mechanisms that are responsible for this winter biological response, SAD sufferers are greatly impacted by their symptoms.

Being told that their condition is non-remediable, further exacerbates their misery. It adds emotional suffering and may cause depression in those who are told that their condition has no cure. It may be wise for the diagnostician to reassure the patient that he or she has a biological condition that also affects their mood and is not a mental disorder. This presentation is true, kinder, more sensitive and alleviates patients concerns about their sanity as they are busy managing their physiological symptoms.

Physicians, who are not comfortable with dealing with their patients’ psychological reactions are wise to provide remedies for the physiological aspects of SAD, reassure the patients that their symptoms are typical and refer them to a psychologist for emotional help.

How to assess your “Winter Blues”:

  • Question yourself whether your dislike of winter is a preference or a burden?
  • Assess your mood. If the “winter blues” are constant and burdensome, consult your physician.
  • Refrain from panic if you are diagnosed with “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” It is not a fatal condition.
  • Seek medical and psychological help. The latter may improve your emotional state by providing you with helpful coping tools.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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