This time of year, when fall leads into winter, always boosts my spirits. It’s during this period of late November and December when there’s a variety of elements I find pleasing. The cooler weather is a big one. Give me low 50’s and 60’s all year-long and I’d be happy. A jog or walk around the neighborhood will not feel any better than it does now.
Then there are sports. Baseball is long finished, but hockey and basketball are in full swing, and football is now getting to the good stuff. NFL teams are making their last push for a spot in the playoffs. College bowl games, even meaningless ones, are still fun. NCAA basketball is hitting full stride too. Whatever you like – and I like it all – it’s there in bunches.
With the holidays comes what feels like a collective deceleration of our society, at least a couple of weeks of diversion from the typical routine of the year, a period with some days off, visits to the stores for gifts, maybe some travel. I dig the festive lights around the neighborhoods and even the radio channels dedicated for a few weeks to holiday songs. I was born in the winter and maybe that has something to do with it. I just feel good this time of year.
Unfortunately, many people experience a different mood during these months. Seasonal Depressive Disorder or a milder version sometimes called “winter blues,” is a type of depression that recurs in relation to seasonal changes, and most commonly affects people in the late fall and winter months. Fittingly, December is Seasonal Depression Awareness Month.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, in addition to feelings of depression, this disorder during the winter is characterized by low energy, social withdrawal, and a propensity to overeat (with a particular craving for carbohydrates). The effects of SAD is seen in increasing numbers in populations further from the equator. Women and young adults are more often affected. About ten to 20 percent of Americans may suffer from mild symptoms of winter blues. Fortunately, only one percent of Floridians experience SAD.
Causes include biochemical changes related to the shortening of daylight hours in the winter such as the increased production of melatonin due to more darkness, as well as difficulty regulating serotonin, an important neurotransmitter related to mood.
Some preventative tips are to seek exposure to light and the sunshine, and keep a regular sleep schedule. In addition, as hard as it is this time of year, avoidance of overeating is also recommended.
Seasonal depression is treatable by various methods, including medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, and vitamin D supplements. If you know anyone who could benefit from professional treatment related to seasonal depression, there is a wealth of information online that should get them started in the right direction.
Here’s to a joyous and safe holiday season for all our readers.