Is Winter Making You Depressed?
By Markham Heid
The winter woes; we all get them. The days are short, you’re stuck indoors, and there are twice as many layers of clothing between you and every woman you see. There’s a lot to feel blue about. But some men bear the emotional brunt of winter more heavily than others. Psychologists call it “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD, and this annual wave of depression affects men in strange ways.
“The only difference between SAD and clinical depression is that we expect SAD to recur at the same time each year, usually fall or winter, and to improve at the same time of year, usually in the spring,” explains Kathryn Roecklein, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Both men and women experience symptoms like sadness, low self-esteem and energy, over-eating, over-sleeping, and possible suicidal thoughts, according to the National Institutes of Health. But Roecklein says men in particular suffer from adhedonia—a loss of interest in the activities you love, such as socializing, exercising, or watching Homeland. (Still not sure you have SAD or you’re just, you know, sad?
What can you do about it? While too little daylight is a trigger, more light may be your bullet-proof vest against SAD, says Janis Louise Anderson, Ph.D., a psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “When SAD sufferers get more light exposure that is similar to outdoor light, it often reduces or eliminates their symptoms,” she explains.
With the oversight of a clinical psychologist, 30 to 45 minutes of artificial light therapy can help SAD sufferers, Roecklein says. Companies like Verilux and NatureBright provide options. (Neither Roecklein or Anderson endorse specific manufacturers.)
A little more vitamin D may also help you beat back the winter blues. The vitamin your body draws from sun exposure has also been shown to relieve symptoms of depression by stoking the production of mood-elevating neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, according to a University of Delaware report.
If D and light therapy don’t do the trick, antidepressants can help, Roecklein says. “But meeting with a psychotherapist is the only treatment that seems to have lasting effects,” she adds.