How to Combat the Winter Blues

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
November 30, 2017

This winter, up to one in five Americans will experience seasonal affective disorder — a depression caused by seasonal changes.[1]

Fortunately, there are easy ways to nix SAD, and get glad.

SAD is a serious mental health concern. Folks who suffer from it may have mood swings and depression for months.[2] They may feel hopeless, experience difficulty concentrating, or in extreme cases, have suicidal thoughts.[3]

SAD is generally caused by insufficient exposure to sunlight.[4] In the winter, days are shorter and people tend to stay indoors. This reduced sunlight exposure can result in a Vitamin D deficiency, which heightens the risk of depression.[5]

We’re lucky that our winter months are warm and sunny here in Grenada. But that’s not the case everywhere. If you think seasonal changes are negatively affecting you, here are some easy — and effective — treatments.

  1. Exercise regularly. Working out increases endorphin production, which can help alleviate SAD.[6] Try jogging, hitting the gym, or going for a brisk walk.
  2. Avoid unhealthy food. Foods high in simple carbohydrates and sugar — like white bread or sweets — cause spikes in blood sugar. [7] That can lead to grumpiness or fatigue.[8] Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates — like whole grains and vegetables — that release serotonin, a chemical that can lessen the effects of depression.[9]
  3. Take advantage of sunny days — even if they’re few and far between. Spending time outdoors can boost serotonin levels.[10]
  4. Talk to a physician. They may suggest light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication.[11] For example, light therapy — which involves sitting in front of a florescent light that mimics exposure to daylight — has helped up to 80 percent of patients with SAD, according to physicians at the National Institute of Mental Health.[12]

St. George’s prepares its students to tackle problems such as SAD in their post-graduate careers. Our psychology degree teaches students how to treat an array of mental health issues.[13] Programs such as the Psychiatry Rotation give SGU medical students hands-on experience with treating psychological disorders.[14]

SAD will afflict many Americans this winter. Fortunately, there are several simple steps to vanquish it.

 

[1] http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0301/p1531.html

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/

[3] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

[4] http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0301/p1531.html

[5] https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/12/01/sunlight-depression.aspx

[6] http://www.health.com/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment#exercise-sunlight-seasonal-depression

[7] http://www.health.com/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment#exercise-sunlight-seasonal-depression

[8] https://www.healthline.com/health/mood-food-can-what-you-eat-affect-your-happiness#strategies2

[9] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/02/bad-mood-look-to-your-food/

[10] http://www.health.com/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment#exercise-sunlight-seasonal-depression

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/

[13] http://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-arts-sciences/psychology-degree/

[14] http://www.sgu.edu/course-curriculum/psychiatry-rotation/

 

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