Seasons can have a profound impact on mood. Consider how you feel during the summer months when the sun is shining in the morning and after you leave work. Now consider driving to work on a cold, dark winter morning. If you don't get out of the office during the day, you may not be exposed to any sunlight. If you're vulnerable to the winter blues, you may experience a shift in mood that affects your ability to thrive.
According to the U.S. National Mental Health Association (2002), up to 25 per cent of North Americans experience some form of winter blues, and at least twice as many women as men develop this condition. Most experience such feelings between the ages of 20 and 40, but even young children may suffer. Approximately five per cent of North Americans experience an extreme form of winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is also sometimes described as major depression.
Do you have the winter blues?
If you get the winter blues, you may experience:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Carbohydrate cravings, especially comfort foods like chocolate, bread and pasta
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal
- Low sex drive
These problems disappear in the spring. Some people find they leave quickly, while others find they gradually dissipate.
How can I feel better?
Most people who suffer from the winter blues respond well to regulated bright light therapy. If, however, you feel down for long periods during fall and winter and notice significant changes in your appetite and sleep patterns, you may wish to consult a physician about treatment.
Light therapy for winter blues usually consists of 15-60 minutes of bright light every morning upon waking. Some people find using a second dose of bright light mid afternoon gives them an extra boost of energy to make it through the day. Find a routine that works best with your schedule. You may find it easiest to get your light while eating breakfast, exercising, or while working at the computer. Bright light therapy should not be used in the evening as it will interrupt your normal sleep time. Typically, you will recognize when you've received sufficient light by a feeling of heightened alertness, energy, and/or mood. Everyone is individual in their light needs so you may have to try different lengths of exposure time to find the best level for yourself.