Dear Gulf News,
Winter brings me down … why? The weather’s just gotten better and my friends are understandably making many plans to meet and go out. However, I find myself becoming very reclusive during the winter season. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the weather and how my body and mind adjust to it, or if there is something that I should seek help for. Is it problematic?
Answered by Dr M Thenral, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Clinic
While winter is a magical time for some people – think cozy blankets, hot chocolate, time with family and friends, and celebrations – for others, it’s a time of sadness.
You are not alone in this feeling.
Feeling low or sad, lazy and lethargic with the onset of the colder weather and shorter days is commonly referred to as ‘winter blues’.
These blues could get more severe as the season progresses.
Less commonly, some might have such complaints in spring or summer. This is called Seasonal Affective (Mood) Disorder, or SAD. The difference between “winter blues” and SAD is with regards to the severity of symptoms and their interference with the daily functioning .This distinction is similar to ‘sadness’ versus ‘depression’.
The decrease in sunlight can disrupt the body's internal clock and also the level of certain chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin which play a major role in mood and sleep patterns. US-based May Clinic explains that the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
SAD is more common in women and young adults and also in those living far from the equator. The American Academy of Family Physicians puts the number of people who suffer from winter depression at 4 to 6 per cent of the population. It adds: “Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn't start in people younger than age 20. Your chance of getting SAD goes down as you get older.”
In SAD, the symptoms are the same as in a depressive episode. Some common signs are:
- Feeling depressed most of the time
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities
- Problems with sleeping
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
However, there are some complaints that are specific to winter-induced SAD. These include:
- Craving carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Can you identify with any of these? If so, don’t worry, there are some changes that you can make to your life that can alleviate these feellings.
Lifestyle changes and self-care routines are key to improving your mood in the winter months.
Daily exercise, seeking out the sun, eating a balanced diet, taking vitamin D supplements and staying connected with friends will make a huge difference to how you are feeling.
However, if even with these interventions you can’t shake off that low feeling, don’t brush it off as the ‘winter blues’; it’s time to seek out the help of a mental health professional.
There various treatment options available. Medications, counselling and light therapy can make a real difference to moods.
Winters test one’s perseverance and remember when winter comes spring isn't far behind. With a little effort, winters need not look so dark and cold anymore.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to email@example.com. Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.