CLEVELAND – As we inch closer to ‘Groundhog Day’, many of us will be crossing our fingers hoping the little guy doesn’t see his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter.
According to Joseph Rock, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, for those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, depressive symptoms can actually begin in the fall, but they tend to drag on the longer winter lasts.
“People think of it as starting in the winter, but it typically starts in the fall, when you notice the days getting shorter, and it very often stretches through the winter and tends to get worse as time goes on,” he said. “You tend to see things like increased weight, increased sleep and decreased energy.”
Dr. Rock said SAD impacts people differently – from feeling the ‘winter blues’ to full-blown depression symptoms.
He said most people with mild winter blues are able to function just fine, but they don’t feel as good as they usually do.
For these people, exercising, socializing, sitting closer to a window, or using a light therapy box can help improve mood.
And while it’s normal to feel a little bit of cabin fever during this time of year, Dr. Rock said experiencing increased feelings of depressed mood, negative thinking, or lack of motivation are reasons to talk to a doctor.
This is especially true for those who have pre-existing mood conditions, such as major depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder, as SAD symptoms can be more severe in these individuals.
For those who are just feeling a little lackluster during winter weather, Dr. Rock suggests participating in activities that are enjoyed during the winter months – such as sledding, skiing or skating – so that you can look forward to winter months instead of dreading them.
He said getting as much sun exposure as possible, even during colder weather, is a good idea too.
“Get outside,” said Dr. Rock. “They say not only getting outside, but getting outside within a couple hours of waking up –after the sun rises – helps more than it might later on in the day.”
For those who are really feeling down, however, he said don’t just write off your symptoms as SAD, but see a doctor to make sure it’s not something else.