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Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Winter Blues

Winter is here again, with it brings colder temperatures, shorter days, longer nights and for many, seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder also known as the “winter blues.” According to the National Institute of mental health (NIMH), millions of adults may suffer from SAD, and many may not know it. You may be asking, what causes SAD? Research from NIMH suggest that many factors may contribute, such as a reduction in serotonin production which is controlled by sunlight and helps regulate mood. If there are fewer hours of daylight or a person spends fewer hours outside, they may have a much lower level of serotonin than in the summer. People who struggle with SAD may at the same time may also produce more melatonin with can cause sleepiness. Awesome…talk about a 1, 2 punch.


It's common for me to ask every client, whether I've been seeing them for years or they are brand new, how do you experience the winter? That question alone is extremely helpful to get a sense of what's come, a preview of coming attractions, so to speak. I like to ask that question and start the conversation in September. A person can begin to feel depressed most of the day, struggle with time change and darkness in the early evening and/ or lose interest in activities. They may also experience changes in sleep; either sleeping to much or too little and experience a decrease in their energy level. Additionally, they may experience difficulty concentrating, feel like hibernating and begin to isolate from their families and communities. At its most difficult, people can feel hopeless or have thoughts of death or suicide.


Here we are in February, and if you’re not feeling like yourself, and the picture painted above rings true for you, fear not, you are not alone. There are many things you can do to help turn around how you’re feeling today!


Thankfully, SAD is very treatable and can be diagnosed by any medical or mental health professional who can help you develop a plan of action. I like to talk to my clients about small ways they can affect positive change in both their mindset and setting (their environment) to start feeling better. Let’s talk about setting first. There are some easy things to do if you’re struggling, to enhance your environment to reduce SAD’s impact. Try putting timers on your lights, chances are, if you have a light turned on when you come home from work, you’re less likely to feel drained walking in the door than if it was dark. You could also try having energizing or comforting music playing which would have the same affect.


You may also invest in a wake-up light which simulates sunrise and may help you get going with your day, feeling energized. I would also recommend investing in a light therapy lamp or light box which uses light or photo therapy to help reset your circadian rhythms which helps a person maintain healthy sleep/ wake cycles, mood and even the body’s ability to heal itself. You can sit in front of a light lamp for 15 minutes in the morning and experience an improvement in your mood for the rest of the day or use it both in the morning and in the afternoon as the sun is going down and when may be experiencing that afternoon slump.


Next let’s talk about mindset, if your days just feel overwhelming and exhausting, medication and therapy are incredibly effective in dealing with SAD, if this rings true, please contact your therapist or primary care physician. If you don’t have one, most are a quick internet search away, please click on FTGF’s, GET HELP page to find out more information. You can also affect positive changes in your mindset by using cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT to create new habits such as bundling up and taking mid afternoon walks to get sunshine and fresh air or CPT or cognitive processing therapy which can help identify and change negative thought sand behaviors that may be making you feel worse.


I believe it's also important to mention, that if someone participates in activities where they are most active in the summer, they may also lose a sense of their community in the colder months. If you find yourself a more active fisherman in the summer, chances are then you're seeing your friends and participating in that community more often in the warmer months. That sense of community is important and may be lost in the winter. There may be fewer programs or activities centered around fishing in the winter. It may be helpful to invest in some cold weather gear and plan to meet up on the river or attend one of Fishing the Good Fights biweekly fly-tying nights. The benefits of doing so are tremendous, you maintain a sense of your community, a sense of yourself, and you don't have to start from scratch every spring, plus you have friends who can help light a fire under each other’s asses motivate each other to get moving.


The most important part of community is that people do not have to suffer in silence or suffer alone. Part of being in community is reaching out and making sure your friends and family are doing OK. Please make it a habit to touch base with those you care about. If you are struggling, again, please do not struggle alone. Please click on FTGF’s GET HELP page to get connected with resources.