When you live in the Midwest, you have the benefit of being able to experience all four seasons. During the winter season, Midwesterners enjoy the beauty of a snow-blanketed landscape, evenings by the fire and for the winter sports lovers, sledding and skiing.
It is true that I look forward to the coming of each season, and winter is no different. We usually see our first snowfall somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And who doesn’t “dream” of a white Christmas, to go along with the hot cocoa, Santa and his reindeer, and the well-known holiday song with the same name?
Towards the end of January and early February, a common term that effectively describes an overall feeling that tends to lurk in and around the Midwest comes to mind. That term: the winter “blahs.”
Did you know that the winter “blahs” is actually a medical condition? It is called seasonal affective disorder.
WebMD defines seasonal affective disorder as a ” type of depression that affects a person during the same season each year.” People who live in areas like the Midwest, where the winter days are short and there are significant changes in the amount of sunlight a person is exposed, to are more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder may include feeling sad, moody, nervous or irritable. A loss of interest in activities that you normally like doing is also a symptom. Sufferers of SAD may have a feeling of drowsiness even though they are getting more sleep.
The symptom that seems to effectively describe my case of SAD is “blah.”
For me it starts around the end of January and lasts till about April. For others with SAD, the symptoms may creep up sometime in the late fall and last until April or May. The common element in all of those who experience seasonal affective disorder is that it generally occurs the same time of year for each individual; thus, the term “seasonal.”
How to Treat SAD
If you believe that you have a case of SAD, it is important to contact your physician. Many symptoms of SAD mimic those of clinical depression. A proper diagnosis is necessary. Your doctor may decide to have you undergo counseling or treatment with an antidepressant medication.
In many cases of SAD, light therapy is prescribed. Light therapy is where you sit in direct light or in front of a light box for an hour or longer each day. Many have found that they feel a significant difference within a week of starting on a light therapy regimen.
How I Treat SAD
I suffer from SAD. I have for years. When it hits, I know what it is, and over the years, I have developed my own ways of dealing with this seasonal reality. Here are some ways that have been effective for me:
• Exercise: Regular exercise increases endorphins, that “feel good” chemical in your brain. I don’t really engage in intense workouts, but I do try to add in regular bouts physical activity into each day. I will go for a walk outdoors if the weather permits.
• Try something new: It is tempting to want to just hibernate during these last weeks of winter. But I attempt something new. It might be a new hobby or an activity as simple as shopping for and trying a new recipe. I feel good about myself when I occasionally go step out of my normal routine.
• Get out: It would be nice to go on a vacation to someplace warmer this time of year. But finances and schedules do not always cooperate. I do try to make a point to get out of my own house and meet others or attend a social event. Even something as simple as going out to dinner and a movie can help to break out of that cycle of feeling “blah.”
• Read for fun: Not everyone enjoys reading, but I certainly do. Most of the time I find myself reading for information or news. Getting lost in a gold old-fashioned fiction novel is a nice way for me to escape.
• Take care of health: This point should probably go without saying, but sometimes during that season where I feel “down” I need to intentionally make healthy choices. Eating right and exercising are good places to start.
Seasonal affective disorder may bring my mood down, but it doesn’t knock me out. I love the luxury of experiencing four seasons where I live. But occasionally, the shortest days of the year can seem the longest. With some healthy changes in lifestyle and routine, I can see spring on the other side!