Having grown up in Northern California, and having spent the last couple of weeks on the West Coast, I’m finding the cold snap this week—with the dark, gray skies accompanied by the incessant bitter cold— to be particularly grim. I just asked myself this morning: ”Why did I want to live here again?” I quickly thought about how I do love so many things about New England. I am as still enchanted by the culture, the history, and authenticity of the people as I was as a new student over 10 years ago. I loved autumn then (and still do), but my first winter was a rude awakening. As a West Coast transplant, I initially found it novel, but now, it simply makes me want to curl up in my bed, binge watch shows set in warm locales, and eat as many comfort foods as possible. And while that desire is tempting, the demands of life remain. I will thus soldier on and try to make the best of winter. I’ll play in the snow with my daughter and remind myself that it won’t last forever.
For many people though, moving past the ‘winter blues’ is far from simple. While numerous individuals’ moods are mildly affected by the winter, Seasonal affective Disorder (SAD) is a more serious clinical condition, which is characterized by recurrent depressive episodes which most often start in late fall and do not remit until spring. Persons who are diagnosed with SAD may experience consistent symptoms in winter such as social withdrawal, lack of interest in daily activities, hopelessness, excess fatigue, overeating, and carbohydrate craving. The condition tends to affect more women than men. There is also suggestion that the condition is more related to lack of light than to cold temperatures per-say.
There are treatment options that can help alleviate symptoms for those who are grappling with SAD. Trained medical professionals can employ the use of light therapy methods. Antidepressant medications can also be helpful tools to manage depressive episodes.
As with all depressive conditions, talk therapy is another way to treat symptoms. Developing a relationship of trust with a trained therapist has the potential to help individuals who are struggling with depressed mood during winter by giving them a safe, supported space to share their feelings. Clinicians are also trained to help individuals learn practical skills and techniques that they can employ on a daily basis to manage symptoms.
Whether you have mild ‘winter blues’, or if your symptoms are more consistent with Seasonal affective Disorder, please know that there is help available and that you do not have to face your feelings alone. Please reach out to me, email@example.com or email our practice at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk about ways that you can receive more support.
In the meantime, be kind to yourself, and think warm thoughts until spring!