Do people really feel worse during the Winter months?
Winter is drawing in and the days are getting shorter. Many people find themselves feeling increasingly tired and cranky at this time of the year. You may be wondering whether it’s true that people really do feel worse during the winter months or whether this is a modern myth. Research seems to suggest that winter sadness and depression are actually real, but there are other factors to consider.
There are a number of reasons that people may feel more miserable during the winter.
SAD (Seasonal affective disorder)
You’ve probably heard of SAD (or seasonal affective disorder), as more has been made of it in recent years and it is a disorder that gets plenty of publicity.
As the days get shorter and darker, some people find themselves feeling more tired, cranky, and lethargic than usual. This seasonal depression, is more than just the winter blues, it is a clinical problem that often requires medical intervention. It has nothing to do with the weather getting colder, but more to do with the short days and the balance of light and dark. Many people travel to and from work in the dark, and are then cooped up inside all day, so that the only time they have to spend outside is when they have a day off, and unfortunately for many people, days off are spent doing chores and running errands. This is a particular issue for women, and research in the USA suggests that the ratio of women to men who have seasonal disorder is 3:1.
Recognisable symptoms of SAD
- The symptoms you may have for SAD include
- A sudden disinterest in things you usually find enjoyable
- Significant change in your sleep patterns
- A change to your appetite
- Feeling lethargic or fatigued, low energy levels
- Difficulty concentrating
- A marked decrease in mood
- Poor libido
If you have these symptoms outside the winter months, then it is more likely that you do not have SAD, but you may have depression.
To be diagnosed with SAD, episodes of major depression need to occur as the season changes, for at least two years, with symptoms improving in the spring and summer.
Or is it the winter blues?
Everyone has a tendency to feel a little down over the winter months, but for people with SAD, their low mood is intolerable. If you do display some symptoms during the darker months, you may think you’re over-reacting and you don’t have SAD.
Potentially you may have a case of the winter blues. The symptoms are the same, this is just a milder form of depression after all. The way to tell the difference is to consider how far the symptoms that you are experiencing affect your everyday life. Are you still able to cope at work or college? Are you maintaining your relationships?
Regardless of the severity of your symptoms, it can never hurt to talk to a professional about the way you are feeling. They can offer reassurance one way or the other. There are many types of treatment available, so you can find one to suit you, and prevent your symptoms getting worse.
What else can be causing your symptoms?
Darker mornings and nights often spell the end of people’s exercise regime. When it is cold and wet it is far easier to catch the bus or take the car into work instead of walking, and who wants to go for a jog when they return home in the evening, and the living room is warm and cosy? Well, this lack of exercise in itself can be a huge part of the problem. Moving around can only boost your mood, so make sure you still do as much as you can.
It’s an expensive time of year
Christmas is on the horizon and of course everybody ends up stretching themselves more than they should. It’s not just present-buying, but the parties, food and clothing, as well as heating your home. If money is an issue for you this is bound to bring you down. It is important to take control of your finances and don’t over exert yourself.
Christmas and New Year and family gatherings at this time of year can make you nostalgic for times past, and those who are lost. Everyone around you seems to be having a good time, and the message is that if you are not, you’re somehow less than everyone else. Ignore this kind of message. It’s not true. Everyone has their own struggles and you cannot judge a present by its’ wrapping.
If you want to be on your own, you are perfectly entitled to do that. If you prefer company, then set out to find some. The important thing is to manage your expectations about the holidays, and if you have SAD, or the winter blues, remember to see this festive period as a few days out of many, and set your sights on what happens afterwards.
Other reasons for feeling worse at this time of year
- Cold weather
- Low vitamin D levels
- Changes in diet changes (we don’t eat as much salad or fruit or vegetables in the winter)
- Hormonal fluctuations
If you are suffering – feeling down or miserable in any way, it is worth taking further advice. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor, or other professional, or find a talking therapy to help.
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