Winter Blues or Something More?
By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, LLP
As fall turns to winter, the days become colder and sunlight dwindles. During the winter season, for many, it is not unusual to experience a cluster of symptoms that are often referred to as the “winter blues.” The term generally used to describe mild changes in mood, energy and alertness. Individuals can also feel more fatigued, irritable and crave comfort foods.
While the winter blues is not a psychiatric diagnosis, the effect of the winter weather on mood is real and well documented. And, with pandemic fatigue lingering for many people these symptoms may be intensified this winter.
Research has revealed the following activities may help alleviate symptoms of the winter blues.
Although it may be more difficult to feel motivated to move during the winter months, the psychological and physical effect of exercise that increases heart rate definitely improve mood and reduce anxiety. When we exercise, endorphins are released and interact with receptors in the brain to trigger a positive feeling in the body and improve our mood.
While the pandemic has made it increasingly challenging physically to gather with friends and family, staying connected with positive and supportive people can elevate mood. Technology has increased our ability to stay connected with others even while socially distancing.
Even if the weather is cold, a short walk in fresh air can be invigorating and help elevate your mood. Not unlike exercise, simple movement including walking produces endorphins, which can result in positive changes in overall state of mind.
Sit by a Window
Reduced sunlight can disrupt your body’s internal clock, also known as circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that increased exposure to natural light can help boost your mood and regulate your sleep patterns.
When feeling blue, it is natural to crave comfort foods, including carbohydrates. Focusing on eating a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, actually has better outcomes. These nutrient-rich foods will provide energy. Certain foods are known to boost mood, while empty carbs and sugar are known to cause sluggishness.
Self care is known to improve mood in any season but may be of particular benefit during the dreary winter months. Being kind to oneself pays off.
For 5 to 10 percent of individuals, symptoms of sadness and lethargy could signal seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter. Research reveals shorter days and reduced sunlight appear to be triggers for SAD. It is marked by mild changes in mood including sadness, loss of interest in regular activities, exhaustion and weigh gain and may benefit from professional treatment. Light therapy has been shown to ease symptoms, increase energy levels and help people feel better about life.
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, is a sign of major depressive disorder – along with feeling hopelessness or worthlessness, sleep and appetite disturbances, markedly diminished loss of interest in pleasurable activities and/or thoughts of death and suicide.
If the winter blues linger and nothing seems to help, it may be time to seek professional help.
A lifelong resident of Macomb County, Shelley Galasso Bonanno is a practicing limited licensed psychologist who earned her master’s degree from Wayne State University in 1987. She has a breadth of experience in working with adults, children, families, and couples. In addition to working in private practice, Ms. Bonanno performs consultative services for State and forensic agencies. She performs custody and parenting time evaluations and is a court approved mediator. Her writings have appeared in various online and print publications. An advocate for mental health, you can follow Ms. Bonanno on Twitter @ shelleybonanno.