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Winter Does Not Have to Be Blue

As the days become shorter and the temperature drops, the “winter blues” can set it in for many Canberrans. For some, the change in weather and season, can lead them to feel sluggish, lack motivation, and choose to stay in, over going out and socialising. However, for others, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, a loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, insomnia or oversleeping, changes in weight or appetite, decreased energy levels and fatigue, and/or increased inactivity, are not merely winter melancholy, but are symptoms of a disorder known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, most often during winter and autumn, when there is a reduction in sunlight. It is thought that the depression is caused by a disruption in the body's internal clock, which results in reduced levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which plays an important role in regulating mood. Research also suggests that an overproduction of Melatonin, a brain chemical involved in sleep, is also linked to changes in mood and sleep patterns. While current prevalence rates of SAD in Australia are scarce, recent research suggests that 1 in 3 Australians report that they “feel more down” and “depressed” during winter than in the warmer months, whereas only 6% experience less of a feeling of being down and depressed during winter (Nevarez-Flores, Bostock, & Neil, 2023).

What to do if you think you have SAD?

If you think that the changes in your mood or behaviour are associated with seasonality or daylight hours, not external stressors associated with certain times of year, it may be time to talk with your healthcare professional. Since SAD is a form of depression, a referral from your General Practioner (GP) to a psychologist is required for a formal diagnosis. A psychologist can assess your symptoms, their duration, and their effect on your functioning, and then help develop an individualised treatment plan for you. One or more of the empirically supported treatments may be included in your treatment plan, including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), light therapy, melatonin, as well as medications, including antidepressants, which can be prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist (Forneris et al., 2019).

How can you ease your symptoms and reduce your vulnerability to SAD?

While there is nothing you can do about the changing seasons, there are some steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to SAD, before the winter blues sets in.

  1. Keeping a regular schedule can benefit people with SAD who are experiencing sleeping problems, since it exposes them to light at consistent and predictable times.
  2. Since increased exposure to sunlight can help reduce symptoms, opening your blinds or sitting near a window can be a useful way to increase the amount of natural sunlight entering your office or home.
  3. Regular exercise is a powerful tool to fighting seasonal depression, especially if you can exercise in natural daylight. Exercise also produces serotonin and helps to improve sleep, which are both risk factors for SAD.
  4. Given the strong relationship between social isolation and depression, find creative ways to connect with the important people in your life. Remember that technology can be more of a friend than a foe if you find yourself staying indoors more than you would like to.
  5. Start engaging in mood-boosting activities in the lead up to winter/autumn so that you don't have to start from scratch once you already notice the symptoms of seasonal depression come on.

Get in touch!

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, and we look forward to connecting with you soon.

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