As winter arrives the Northern hemisphere, many people feel more depressed as their mood starts changing. Some of us are only slightly affected, whilst some find their lives almost transformed, as if they are a different person in the winter time.
People who are very social and active in the summer time can find themselves becoming almost a recluse as winter bites, not having the energy or will to go out much.
This depression causing phenomena has become known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in psychology circles.
Whilst depression is frighteningly common, it is not always easy to diagnose and treat. The reason being that it is not ‘one thing’ to all people, and it does not have a single cause. Even within one person, it may have different shades and come from several causes which combine to create the problem.
The main cause of this winter depression is thought to be the reduced sun light during the winter months, due to the shorter and often cloudy days.
So, what can be done about it?
Here are some suggestions on what can often help sufferers of SAD:
Buy a light box:
These are sun light substitutes, and the idea is that you sit in front of them whilst reading (for example) for 20 minutes or more per day.
People often report feeling better within 2 weeks of using them.
This may seem self-evident, but keeping your body temperature up during the cold weather can also help.
If you can get away to a sunny and warm place during the winter, this helps break the cycle.
You may not feel like it, but doing regular exercise boost your metabolism.
Reduce Your Carbohydrate Intake:
Cut down on the things you crave, which often accompany SAD., as are just temporary fixes to make you feel better.
Reduce Stressful Activities:
If you have less energy and enthusiasm, then take on less in the winter months.
There is often a craving to sleep longer and more often with SAD, almost as if you go into semi-hibernation. Unfortunately, this sleep is seldom refreshing, so cut it down.
You may find this supportive.
Move Somewhere Sunny:
Sounds a bit drastic, but if you are severely affected by SAD, this may be an option to consider.
For full details on SAD and what you can do about depression caused by SAD, I recommend Dr. Rosenthal’s excellent book: Winter Blues, Revised Edition: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
St John’s Wort
The herb St John’s Wort which is considered to be one of the most effective over the counter anti-depressants.
Here are some key points about St John’s Wort:
1. First and foremost it is an anti-depressant
2. Since depression has such a wide variety of symptoms, it can make it appear more of a cure-all than it really is. Hence, people can end up treating their depression, without realizing they have it
3. It has fewer side-effects than older medicinal anti-depressants, and some of the more modern ones. In fact, it has few if any side-effects.
4. It is very effective at treating milder forms of depression, but may well not be enough for more serious forms
5. As with all drugs, it is not effective for all people all of the time. Given the range of depression’s symptoms, this is hardly surprising.
6. Longer term treatments help protect against relapses
7. It can help to suppress symptoms, and prevent the complications of no treatment
8. The risk of self-treatment is that it can bury problems that really require more help
9. Clinical test support the view that St John’s Wort is effective with milder forms of depression. It can also be effective with dysthymia (longer term mild depression). It is not for severe depression (at least on its own).
For a more extensive discussion this subject, clinical tests and other popular herbs try this book: Herbs for the Mind, by Davidson and Connor.
© David R. Durham.