In winter, it’s not uncommon for people to experience changes in their mood, energy level and day to day routine. As days get shorter and the exposure to sunlight reduces, the body can experience changes in the production of melatonin – a hormone associated with the body’s sleep – awake cycle. Feeling sad, lethargic, changes in our sleep and a lack of motivation to carry out daily activities are signs that one may be experiencing ‘winter blues’.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
For most people, this change in mood is mild, does not hamper our daily functioning and can be overcome with some basic lifestyle changes and exposure to sunlight. “Some, however, may experience a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder – episodes of a mood disorder that are related to changes in seasonal patterns,” explains Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
“A depressive episode as part of the seasonal affective disorder is characterized by low moods and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities that impact one’s personal or professional life. A person may experience changes in eating and sleeping patterns, feelings of fatigue, difficulties in concentrating and making decisions. These may also be accompanied by feelings of low self-worth. These symptoms of depression remit once the season changes,” says Dr Samir. The pattern typically followed by seasonal affective disorder is a depressive episode in the winter months, a person feels better once spring begins. In some cases, though not as often, these changes may occur in the summer months instead. “We must remember, however, that seasonal affective disorder is a lot more prevalent in colder, temperate regions where the winters are more severe and exposure to sunlight during these months is far more limited,” says Dr Samir.
What you need to do if you are struggling with SAD?
“Anyone experiencing seasonal fluctuations in moods is advised to make certain lifestyle corrections – ensure that the sleep-awake cycle remains the same across seasons. Avoid sleeping less or more than usual, since both may have an impact on your mood. Avoid the temptation to overeat, and keep yourself engaged in work and other activities that you enjoy. Regular physical exercise is helpful. Most importantly, ensure exposure to sunlight – sitting outdoors for some time during the day is a must. Ensure that you stay in touch with your support systems, so talk to friends, family or colleagues regularly,” advises Dr Samir.
However, if doing the above doesn’t help too much, you may need medical intervention. “Do consult your doctor during this time to ensure the proper medical management of the condition. Light therapy, which is the exposure to artificial light may also be helpful,” he suggests. With the right understanding of seasonal affective disorder, the right medical intervention and lifestyle changes, one can easily manage the condition.