Seems like you're more melancholy than usual. It could be a case of the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Five percent of Americans are said to suffer from it according to the American Psychiatry Association. Photo credit: AS Photo Studio/Elements Envato

Feeling a little down these days? The winter blues is real and impacts moods, mental health

4 mins read

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, no matter how cheerful you try to be, Jack Frost keeps nipping at that sadness in the pit of your stomach.

The shorter days and cooler temperatures affect  many people around the world. The winter blues also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs during the cold-weather months, and it’s a doozy.  “Some people don’t understand how that may affect them,” Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Kemi Yemi-Ese of Neema Counseling told Ark Republic.

According to the American Psychiatry Association, symptoms of the winter blues range from feelings of distress and being overwhelmed, to an unshakeable melancholy. Observations suggest that suboptimal light conditions are deleterious to health during the cold season. Hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness, and hyperphagia, which is overeating, are the most prevalent symptoms of SAD. Oversleeping during the day is common, and hyperphagia will result in weight gain. Additional signs and symptoms include low mood, cravings for carbohydrates, impatience, interest loss, and social disengagement.

“I read a long time ago, people [who] live in places that don’t get as much sun, the depression rate of that population is slightly more elevated than the general population in the country,” shared Yemi-Ese.

To that end, your symptoms are indicative of a winter seasonal pattern if you experience them anytime between December to February. There is a consistent pattern of seasonality in the northern United States, as about 50 percent of all persons report feeling worse in frosty weather. Those at higher latitudes tend to exhibit this trend more clearly. In contrast, individuals who reside in Sarasota, Florida, have a greater proportion of people who detest summer as opposed to those who live in New Hampshire. Conversely, the population found in northern Europe—Norway, in particular— suffer from a condition known as midwinter insomnia that is marked by difficulty falling asleep.

Out of 14,667 male and female respondents in a survey conducted in Tromso, a Norwegian city north of the Arctic Circle, 17.6 percent of women and 9.0 percent of men reported insomnia during the dark period of the year. Autumn, spring, and the midnight-sun period were significantly less typical times for insomnia.

| Read: The 988 Campaign does a wellness check on Black mental health awareness

Yemi-Ese says that one way to tell that you are experiencing depression or something other than being in a bad mood is how much you are distancing yourself from your loved ones or the people you care about. Therefore, it is incumbent to your well-being to take an introspective look and evaluate whether you find yourself being more cantankerous around this time. “You can have an irritable mood, but if it’s a persistent irritable mood, a persistent distance away from loved ones, and activities you enjoy, then it’s something to look into,” explained the Texas-based counselor.

Along with feeling cranky, if you feel slowed down, have difficulty waking up in the morning, and find it hard to focus at work or relationships, you may be amongst those who suffer from seasonal depression.  In this situation, it’s important to pick apart the idea of being in a constant testy mood. Although this time of year can send you into an emotional tailspin, the LPC asserts that problems other than seasonal variations in weather may be the cause of blues.  “They may have lost a loved one, they may have family issues or issues with their children, or personal relationships may be affecting them,” she pointed out.

“Being able to tell sometimes is very difficult because a lot of people have various reasons for having a low mood during the holidays.” Plus, during the yuletide, it’s almost saturated in our culture that it is family time, and the need to feel grateful is prevalent.

If someone has had a hard year, it could also affect how they view the season. Memories can be evoked and situations from the past can be replayed by anything from music to scents. You can really lose your emotional equilibrium over the smallest thing.

Here are the common symptoms for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Usually, they are most prominent when there is less sunlight. In the U.S. the months of January and February mark a spike in SAD reports. Infographic by Ark Republic

What is the scientific explanation for all of this? 

Studies have shown that the key to the blues can be found in the lack of vitamin D and dehydration. Lead Researcher, Dr. Brenda McMahon is of the belief that the brain dial is turned to adjust serotonin for the change in season. Given that sunshine is our main source of vitamin D, shorter days that coincide with reduced solar exposure directly affect our vitamin D levels. The higher the activity of the serotonin transporter (SERT), which transfers serotonin back into the dormant nerve cells, the lower the activity of serotonin.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that controls a number of bodily functions. This includes everything from learning, sex drive, and appetite to blood coagulation, mood, sleep, and digestion. “Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels,” stated Dr. McMahon.

By increasing your fluid intake, you can help dispel the sad feelings and emerge from the shadows, suggests the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). “It’s not just hot weather that puts people at risk of dehydration. When it’s cold, people may drink less. This may be due to a reduced thirst response or simply because we don’t feel like chilled drinks in cold weather,” noted Senior Nutrition Scientist at the BNF, Bridget Benelam.

Many people experience a wide range of emotions and feelings during the frost months. While some people look forward to the advent and the happy times that accompany them with great anticipation, others might be experiencing the symptoms of seasonal mood disorder. People who suffer from seasonal depression can find ways to manage their symptoms and find moments of joy and calm in the middle of the cold and gloom by learning about the specific triggers and obstacles, getting assistance, and putting coping mechanisms into practice. Remember that you are not going through this alone and with the correct resources and assistance, you can overcome any challenge and succeed in life.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Winter Solstice calls for us to be truthful and courageous

Next Story

Intermezzo Podcast: Ian Elly Ssali Kiggundu

Latest from Health & Wellness