Categories: General Health

Tackling Winter Woes – A Systematic Approach!

When winter comes, there comes an array of ailments – ranging from cough and cold to itchy skin and breathing problems – along with it. To an extent, these seasonal health problems can be tackled by dressing up for winter, drinking hot beverages, staying indoors, etc. But physical ailments are not the only problem that affects people in winter. The season is known to also affect our mood, commonly referred to as winter blues. Some people may feel low, lose interest in pleasurable activities or feel sluggish. However, few people also experience a more severe form of this presentation, which has been termed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Let’s analyze the symptoms and causes of SAD before finding out how to tackle it.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

To put it simply, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of recurrent depression that comes with a seasonal pattern. In this, the signs of depression generally occur during the early days of winter with full remission of symptoms during the other seasons. The onset most commonly occurs in winter as compared to summer. It’s not mere winter blues and requires treatment.

What are its symptoms?  

The specific symptoms that are associated with winter-onset Seasonal Affective Disorders are:

  • Low mood and may be accompanied by crying spells
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and food preferences, especially craving for high-in-carbohydrates food, leading to weight gain
  • Fatigue or low energy levels
  • Withdrawing from social activities

People affected would experience personal distress and may also have difficulties in their social and occupational settings.

What are the causes?

Though exact causes are not known, certain factors that come into play are:

  • The biological clock: In winter, days are shorter and nights are longer. Also, the amount of sunlight an individual gets is also decreased. As a result, the biological clock gets disrupted making it difficult for the body to adapt or adjust to these changes.
  • Decreased Serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight causes a dip in serotonin and results in depression.
  • Melatonin imbalance: As a result of the change in season, melatonin levels in the body get affected. It causes to alter sleep patterns and mood.

Hence, the combination of decreased serotonin and increased melatonin can impact circadian rhythms.

How to tackle Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Like any other disease, the first step towards tackling Seasonal Affective Disorder is to diagnose it. In order to get a proper diagnosis, your doctor/mental health practitioner will make you undergo: 1) A physical examination to find out whether it’s caused by an underlying health issue. 2) Lab tests, to analyze your complete blood count or figure out whether your thyroid is functioning properly. 3) Psychological evaluation to assess your mental health. Towards this, you’d be required to answer questions regarding your thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns.

If you have bipolar disorder, it’s important to tell your doctor about it. The reason for this is that certain treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder can adversely affect those with bipolar.

Treatment options

Light therapy: Also known as phototherapy, it’s a simple yet effective method. The treatment is about mimicking natural light using a lightbox. Within the first hour of waking up each day, exposing yourself to the light will bring a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

Medications: Anti-depressants are used to treat the condition.

Cognitive behavioural therapy: It’s about identifying and changing negative thoughts that are making you feel worse. It’s also about learning to manage stress by applying healthy coping strategies.

Mind-body connection: Meditation, yoga, music and art therapy can help you establish the mind-body connection and relax.

Lifestyle changes: Go for a long walk, exercise regularly, open the doors and windows and let the sunlight in.

In addition to these, taking care of yourself, going for trips and socializing can greatly benefit you and alleviate your mood swings and other symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Remember, if you have identified any symptoms which you think are of Seasonal Affective Disorder, don’t brush it away as winter blues. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, this condition can be effectively controlled.

Ms. Raina Jane D’Mello, Consultant – Psychiatry & Clinical Psychology, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore

Narayana Health

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