Winter depression, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mood disorder that affects many people during cold seasons. It is prevalent to those living in the north of the equator (think the Nordic region or countries like Sweden and Finland) or where there is less consistency of sunlight and brightness.
Scientists believe that reduced exposure to sunlight also leads to reduced production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Lack of serotonin results in feelings of depression and frequent mood changes.
For expatriates who came from tropical countries, winter depression or sometimes called winter blues is one of most difficult struggles to overcome. It affects our daily lives, our relationship with others as well as our work.
Somber, dark and rainy climes will often make you sad and irritable. When these feelings drag on particularly during autumn and winter, they can lead to depression. So when you start feeling like not getting out of bed for days on end, consider that this could be winter depression.
Other symptoms of winter depression include increased feelings of laziness, sleepiness, fatigue as well as craving for carbo-rich food that can lead to weight gain. People suffering from winter depression are also less inclined to socialize, preferring to stay at home than meet with friends.
So when you start feeling like those mentioned above, it is very important to talk to your doctor for proper diagnosis and therapy. Remember that there are different levels of winter depression.
Beating the winter blues
There are other practical ways to overcome winter depression without visiting a doctor.
Regular exercise and proper diet are particularly important during bouts of winter depression. Try to have some outdoor physical activities for a minimum of 30 minutes, three times a week. Walking after or during your lunch break will help brighten your mood especially during those gloomy days.
Eating a balanced diet with fruits and vegetable will help your body store more energy and might counteract your cravings for fattening and/or sweet food.
Since winter depression usually occurs around Christmas time, there will be no shortage of parties and activities that you can engage in. Even if it takes incredible effort, drag yourself out of bed, get out of the house and socialize. If partying is too much for you, go out for a cup of coffee or lunch date with your friends or go shopping with your girlfriends.
For severe cases of winter depression, doctors may prescribe antidepressant medications or light therapy. Light therapy is a process wherein a patient is exposed to extreme bright lights for a certain period of time everyday, indirectly shining it to the patient’s eyes. The brightness can be so extreme that patients are advised not to look directly into the light.
Light therapy is often expensive but it can be covered by your health insurance. A more affordable alternative would be to buy energy boosting lights that promises to help in reducing winter depression. The energy lights manufactured by Philips starts at about €150. The brand claims that it has been clinically-tested to boost energy that can help those suffering from winter blues.
Winter blues can be hard to beat especially for Filipinos who are used to 365 days of sunlight. But as long as we are aware of our emotional reactions to the changing of seasons, we can surely beat this sometimes paralyzing feeling of depression. We just have to stay positive.