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Winter got you down? It could be Seasonal Affective Disorder

Nothing says 'let's have a productive day' like heading in to work when it's pitch black outside.

Women at Work - Kristen Asleson column sig
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This week we experienced the shortest day of the year – well if you’re a cup half-empty type of person. Or, if you tend to be more positive (something I strive to be), it was the longest night of the year! Stating the obvious, that we are not seeing the sun as much, is clearly that, stating the obvious. It is no wonder people start feeling lethargic, moody and stuck in a rut.

Nothing says, “let’s get energized and have a productive day” like heading in to work when it is pitch black outside, your car needs to be plugged in and you are buried in winter gear.


For as many as one out of five people, winter means much more than having to deal with unruly hair and dry skin. Those people suffer from a disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 75 percent of those people are women.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs every year at the same time. Most people’s symptoms begin in the early fall and continue throughout the winter months. And for most, once the sunnier days of spring and summer break through, the symptoms disappear.

SAD begins to appear in myriad of ways, including:


  • Depression.

  • Hopelessness.

  • Anxiety.

  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs.

  • Social withdrawal.

  • Oversleeping.

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

  • Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates

  • Weight gain.

  • Difficulty concentrating.

I am sure reading this list of is causing a lot of readers to evaluate their feelings. Keep in mind it is normal to have some days when you are feeling more down than others. Even the happiest of people struggle to keep their attitudes on the perky side during the dreary days of winter. But, if you feel down for long stretches at a time, and the activities that normally you enjoy can’t seem to get you motivated, then maybe it is time to see a doctor.
According to Mayo Clinic, the specific cause of SAD is unknown. However, as with many mental health conditions, genetics, age and your body’s chemical makeup all play a role in the development of this condition.

There are a few specific factors to attribute to the development of this condition. For instance, the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of depression.

Feelings of depression can also be caused by a drop in levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects one’s mood, and it may have a role in seasonal affective disorder.

Lastly, the changes in the season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin. This disruption in balance can interrupt sleep patterns and cause moodiness.

If you are having severe symptoms, you may need medications, light therapy or other treatments. However, here are some ideas that will help you battle those “down in the dumps” days better.

  • Make your environment sunnier and brighter by opening blinds, trimming tree branches that block sunlight or adding skylights to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at work or home.

  • As cold as it is, get outside, even if only for a few seconds at a time. The best time to do this is within two hours of getting up.

  • Regular exercise! Getting physical helps relieve stress and anxiety. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, which also helps lift your mood.

  • If you suffer from SAD, you are not alone. There are thousands of people who experience the winter blues and blahs. If you are one who experiences more serious symptoms, seek help. The good news is that there are ways to cope and other plans that can help you get through the winter months.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to news@postbulletin.com .

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