Here we are in the middle of winter and it seems like everyone has a case of the blahs. But what is it really? And is there something we can do to put some more pep in our step?
I've heard of the term seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, but what does it mean? So, I did some research and had a conversation with Heather Maier, CNP, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care.
First things first, what the heck is seasonal affective disorder?
Heather: "Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that can occur any time of year; either in the fall and winter months or in the spring or summer months. In the Midwest, it tends to begin in the early fall, lasting until late in the winter. The time change from Daylight Savings time to Standard time is a frequent trigger. In Cincinnati, the shorter daylight hours, damp cloudy days and colder temperatures tend to keep many of us indoors for months on end. Cravings for comforts foods, such as foods higher in carbohydrates and sleeping more can become the norm, often leading to weight gain. For some, this can lead to feeling down and less motivated; withdrawal from friends/family."
How do you diagnose it?
Heather: "In Primary care, we screen our patients for depression with varied assessment tools. Sometimes, symptoms may be triggered by life events and can be situational, not meeting the criteria for major depression. The screening tools take into consideration symptoms which are present at least 2 weeks."
A great reason to check in with your primary care provider if you feel like these feelings are becoming a problem.
Are most people in Cincinnati affected if we're all living with these shorter days and gloomy weather?
Heather: "While I do not think most residents of Cincinnati suffer from SAD, I do think most are affected to some degree by the shorter daylight hours in their sleep and activity. At least, this is what I have seen in my own clinical practice. Not everyone is prone to depression. While many may experience some depressive symptoms at times, they do not meet the criteria for major depression."
What can we do lessen the effects of these "winter blahs" here in Cincinnati?
Heather: "I recommend to all of my patients:
- Regular physical activity at least five times a week, whether indoors or outdoors. Finding something such as walking, hiking or biking can be a good start. You don't need to join a gym or spend a significant amount of money to get this in.
- Going to bed at about the same time every evening (weekends included) as well as arising at the same time (weekends included) will help to keep the sleep cycle stable. Avoiding use of electronic devices about 2 hours prior to anticipated sleep will help to reduce stimulation, allowing sleep to happen. Keeping the bedroom cool and free from distraction (noise, light, family).
- In some cases, melatonin can be helpful to help with sleep. Dosing varies. Maximum recommended dosing is generally under 10 mg a day.
- Bright light therapy with a light box can be helpful for some. Mimicking early morning daylight for easier waking is one approach. The drawback with this is if you have a partner sharing your bedroom and they are not on the same sleep cycle pattern. Thirty to sixty minutes of bright light exposure early in the day can be another approach."
So, while we can't change the weather, we can change our habits. Great advice from Heather Maier!
Looking for a primary care partner to help you manage seasonal affective disorder or other health needs? Schedule an appointment online today at a location near you!