Are these Dark Winter Days Making You Feeling Sad? Here's How to Feel Better Fast.

Rose Bak

Seasonal depression is on the rise -- here's what you can do about it.

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There’s something about the shorter days of winter that can really bring you down. And there’s something about being in month ten of a pandemic that can make you want to cry. All. Day. Long.

We all have low moods from time to time.

Some people start to feel a little depressed once the time changes and the cold weather starts. Others hold on through the holiday season then once we pass New Year’s Day, people’s moods plummet.

I’m normally a relatively cheerful person – except in winter. The other day it was raining when I woke up.

“Oh god, it’s raining again,” I groaned to myself, instantly feeling depressed. “This sucks!”

I live in the Pacific Northwest. It essentially rains every day from mid-September through mid-June, sometimes into July. Sometimes we will go a week or longer without a single glimpse of the sun.

It gets so bad that when we hit that one random sunny day in spring, literally every person in the city stumbles outside, rubbing their eyes against the glare like when the kids escape their underground prison in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A lot of people here like the rain, but I’m not a fan. Clearly, I’m living in the wrong place and that’s why I’m moving to Hawaii when I retire.

But that’s a few years off, so my goal right now is to create a plan to minimize seasonal depression during the rainy winter months.

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that every year she feels perfectly fine at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but once the calendar turns to a new year and there’s not really anything to look forward to, she is overwhelmed with sadness.

This year the sadness came quicker.

It’s much worse this year. The COVID-19 pandemic and the never-ending lockdowns have been terrible for our mental health.

It’s a perfect storm: seasonal depression, pandemic fatigue, and holiday let-downs. Even people who don’t normally suffer from depression might be feeling blue this winter.

Kaye Hermanson, a clinical psychologist at UC Davis, notes that many people will not only be let down but actually grieving the holidays since they could not see family and friends like they would in a typical year. Hermanson notes,

“For a lot of people, holiday celebrations are what get us through the start of winter.”

Hermanson believes that the post-holiday COVID surge will likely result in additional restrictions and closures as well as increased anxiety about getting sick. That plus realizing that vaccines will likely not be widely available until spring or summer will only make people more despondent.

“We can feel so powerless when we hear those kinds of frightening numbers,” Hermanson said. “One thing you can do to give yourself a little sense of control is to make a commitment: Just do the things you have control over to keep yourself and your friends and family as safe as possible.”

When the blues turns into depression

For many people, seasonal depression is more than just the “winter blues” or pandemic fatigue, it’s actually a documented type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

People who struggle with SAD tend to feel it coming on the same time every year, typically in the fall when the weather gets colder and the days get shorter.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there is no known cause of SAD, but there are three key biological cues that seem to correlate to cases of seasonal depression:

  • Serotonin regulation issues related to higher serotonin proteins
  • Overproduction of melatonin
  • Vitamin D deficiency

Researchers believe that SAD is likely caused by decreased sunlight interfering with circadian rhythm, causing a drop in serotonin and vitamin D levels, and increasing melatonin levels.

The NIMH reports that SAD is more common in females, teens, people with a family or personal history of depression, younger adults, and people living farther away from the equator where days are significantly shorter during the winter months.

It remains to be seen how much the pandemic will impact the frequency and severity of SAD.

People with SAD may experience a variety of symptoms including feeling depressed, losing interest in regular activities, having low energy, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or weight, extreme fatigue, craving carbohydrates, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating.

Dealing with Seasonal Depression

So, what should you do when you feel SAD coming your way?

There are many tools you can try to help improve your mental outlook.

First, talk to your doctor to see if medication or psychotherapy might be helpful.

But in most cases, there are other options to help manage the symptoms of SAD and get through the winter, including:

  • Light therapy: Lightboxes are an effective tool to help your body make up for lost sunlight.
  • Get outside: Step away from Netflix and spend as much time outside as much as you can when the sun is shining.
  • Vitamin D: Keeping your vitamin D levels high will help off-set depression and has a host of other benefits for other body systems.
  • Mindful movement: Practices like yoga and tai chi have been shown as effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
  • Stress management: A regular mindfulness-based meditation practice or guided imagery can help stabilize your mood.
  • Get some exercise: It can be hard to get out of the house during the gloomy months, but breaking a sweat does wonders for your outlook on life.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Resist those carb cravings and load up with vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and slower digesting carbs.
  • Art or Music therapy: Grab an adult coloring book, sing in the shower, find beauty in art.
  • Aromatherapy: Essential oils can be effective mood lifters, particularly combined with other approaches. Good scents to try include: bergamot, lemon clary sage, lavender, roman chamomile, geranium, rose otto, sandalwood, and jasmine.

Psychologist Hermanson advises,

“Honestly, I can’t say the next few months won’t be hard for many people. If I have one simple piece of advice, it’s this: Think about all that we’ve already endured. Just hang on for a few more months. Keep telling yourself, ‘This is a moment in time.’”

Here’s hoping that some preventative measures keep your winter blues away.

#covid19 #pandemic #sad #depression #mentalhealth #winter #anxiety #bipolar

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR
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