SAD is characterized by fall and winter depression, excessive sleep (hypersomnia), increased appetite with carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain, which alternates with normal moods and behaviour in the spring and summer.
Even though the winter blues is a lesser form of SAD, it can be debilitating. Without effective treatment many people find their day-to-day life unsatisfying and difficult to manage. There is an increased prevalence of the winter blues in areas of Canada that have a high proportion of rainy and overcast fall and winter days, affecting about 10 percent of the population.
See your health care practitioner to rule out low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), anemia, blood sugar disturbances, and viral infection. Your health care practitioner should also inquire about seasonal depression and other symptoms.
Here’s what else you can do:
Turn up the light
Try to get as much bright light as possible, particularly in the morning. This can be accomplished by purchasing a light visor or a light box. The device should provide broad spectrum light, as this is very similar to natural light.
It generally takes from two days to a week to notice a great improvement. It is best to use these devices in the morning, as this has the added bonus of resetting the circadian rhythm and stopping daytime melatonin secretion.
Hibernation may be tempting, but get outdoors to take advantage of any natural light that Mother Nature offers. Remember to warm up properly before exercising. Tight muscles are more susceptible to injury in the cold.
Layer your clothing so the innermost layer wicks moisture away from your body while the outer layer provides a wind- and water-repellant barrier. Don’t remove your clothes immediately upon returning indoors. Allow your body time to adjust to the warmer temperature to avoid post-exercise hypothermia.
If exercising outdoors in the winter chill is unappealing, walk at a mall, climb stairs, join a gym, swim at an indoor pool, skate at an arena, or sign up for one of the many fitness programs offered by your local community centre.
Raise your serotonin
A dietary supplement called 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) raises serotonin levels in the brain and is capable of alleviating many of the symptoms that characterize the winter blues.
When using 5-HTP it is wise to be monitored by a health care practitioner. Side effects from 5-HTP are minimal, but can include hypomania, mild nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal problems, such as flatulence, feelings of fullness, and stomach rumbling.