Less sun, colder days, longer nights and less time spent outdoors can all impact your mental well-being, experts say.
During these final months of the year, and especially as we move into fall and begin to think about winter, many Americans may feel a change in mood – this is common.
Health experts have revealed why this happens, how we can manage changes in our psychological, emotional and physiological health, and how to improve symptoms and mood.
What are the winter blues?
Winter blues, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), refers to a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months when exposure to natural sunlight is reduced, Ryan Sultan, MD, researcher and teaching psychiatrist. at Columbia University in New York, told Fox News Digital.
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“It is a recognized mental health problem, characterized by changes in mood and behavior that follow a seasonal pattern,” he said.
While many people experience milder mood changes during winter, SAD represents a more severe and clinically significant form of this disease, Dr. Sultan noted.
What is the cause of the disease?
The exact cause of winter blues isn’t fully understood, Sultan said — but several factors are thought to contribute to its development.
Reduced sunshine. One of the main factors, he said, is reduced sun exposure during the fall and winter months.
“This reduction in natural light can disrupt circadian rhythms and affect the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which play a crucial role in regulating mood and sleep,” Sultan said.
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Genetic factors. Additionally, he added, genetic factors, imbalances in certain brain chemicals, and changes in melatonin and serotonin levels have been associated with SAD.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of winter blues or seasonal affective disorder can vary in severity, Dr. Sultan said, but they generally include the following:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety
- Low energy and increased fatigue
- Increased need for sleep and difficulty waking up in the morning
- Carb Cravings and Weight Gain
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Social withdrawal and reduced interest in activities
- Irritability and increased sensitivity to rejection
“It is important to note that these symptoms usually occur in late fall or early winter and disappear in spring when daylight hours increase,” he emphasized.
How can people improve their mood?
Brandon Santan, PhD, therapist at Thrivepoint Counseling in Chattanooga, Tennessee, shared some strategies and approaches for improving mood and managing the winter blues.
Use light therapy. Consider using a light therapy box that emits bright, full-spectrum light, mimicking natural sunlight.
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“Regular exposure to this light may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with winter blues and SAD,” Santan told Fox News.
To exercise. Engaging in regular physical activity, even if it takes place indoors, can help improve mood and energy levels. Consider indoor activities like yoga, dancing or using exercise equipment, he suggested.
Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the positives in life and cultivate a more optimistic outlook, one expert said.
Stick to a sleep schedule. “Stick to a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day,” he said. “Enough, quality sleep can have a positive impact on mood.”
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Watch your diet. Consume a balanced diet with an emphasis on whole, nutritious foods. Be careful with your sugar and carbohydrate intake, he warned, as this can lead to energy crashes. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, may have beneficial effects on mood, he added.
Be social. “Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Socialize and participate in activities with others, even if that means doing it virtually,” Dr. Santan continued. well-being.
Set goals and have a structure. Set achievable daily goals and maintain a routine. It can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, he said.
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Practice mindfulness and relaxation. Practice mindfulness meditation or relaxation techniques to manage stress and anxiety. These practices can improve mood and mind
Spend time outdoors. When possible, spend time outside during the day.
Even on overcast days, exposure to natural light can be beneficial, Dr. Santan said.
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Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the positive aspects of life and cultivate a more optimistic outlook, he also said.
Take care of yourself. Participate in practices you enjoy, like reading, taking hot baths, or indulging in other ways, he suggested.
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