Cleveland Clinic reports that nearly half a million people in the U.S. suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter while an additional 10 to 20 percent of the population suffer from a milder form of the condition, called “winter blues.” More than three-quarters of those who have the condition are women, and symptoms begin setting in early in adulthood.
The winter blues is a common condition many people experience at some point during the colder, darker winter months. It is hallmarked by a mood shift or slight, brief depression that occurs in conjunction with a distinctive lack of sunlight, spending too much time indoors, and shorter days of winter. While you may understand the feeling all too well, what you may not know is that it has a profound effect on other areas of your life, including:
While the symptoms and effects of winter blues may not be as pronounced and severe as those of SAD, that doesn’t make them any less notable or disruptive to your life and routine. Learning to recognize and manage winter blues can greatly improve your life throughout the winter season.
While winter blues can leave your mind singing “the thrill is gone,” on an endless loop, Seasonal Affective Disorder can leave you feeling as though the thrill will never return. It is the hopelessness and the staying power of SAD that sets it apart from standard winter blues.
Most people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder have experienced symptoms for at least two weeks or longer, and may have much more profound senses of despair, depression, and even worthlessness.
While the two conditions are not the same things, there are similarities that should not be ignored or overlooked. Additionally, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to withdraw from their social circles, preferring to stay home alone, and dwell on their own despair. If this sounds familiar, you may have the more serious condition of SAD rather than winter blues.
The scientific theory behind winter blues is that the it’s the result of less exposure to sunlight in winter. Winter is a trifecta for winter blues. In addition to fewer hours of daylight in the day, there is the additional fact that people spend more of their winter hours indoor, away from the cold. Top it off with the fact that people get less exercise during these times, and there is plenty to get the blues about.
Additionally, people who have SAD are unable to regulate serotonin in the way that others do. Since serotonin is essential for balancing mood, this can be a real downer for those who are already struggling in winter.
While winter blues and SAD share many of the same symptoms, the symptoms of SAD are generally stronger or more pronounced and last longer than symptoms of winter blues. They include:
While not symptoms, it is worth nothing that the bulk of people with winter blues and SAD are women between the ages of 18 and 30. While both men and women, young and old can experience SAD, 75 percent of patients are women in the 18 to 30 age range.
The lack of sunlight in winter can play havoc with your ability to produce sufficient amounts of serotonin and melatonin. Since both hormones are instrumental in regulating mood, sleep, and wakefulness, lower levels of the hormones, related to less exposure to the sun’s vitamin D producing light, can result in an inability to not only get the quantity of sleep you require, but also the quality of sleep you desire. The result is hours of exhaustion and ineffectiveness at work during the day, and an inability to fall asleep or remain asleep at night.
While the winter blues are certainly nothing to dismiss, it isn’t as destructive to mental energy and overall mood as SAD. If you suspect either, the odds are good that one of the first places you’re feeling the sting is in the quality of your sleep.
The winter blues are much easier to overcome than SAD. There are several things you can do that will help in your efforts to shake the winter blues, including:
Using more of these tips throughout the winter can help you prevent the onset of symptoms, eliminate concerns over worsening symptoms, and learn to find joy in the winter, rather than singing the blues.
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