As winter storms have affected numerous states in the U.S. the past months, many people are going through the winter blues, blaming it on the weather. Experts; however, say the weather may not even be the only cause of a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and that people can do a lot more than just wait for spring to come along.
While often not taken seriously, people who suffer from SAD experience a number of discomforts in fall and winter. Matthew Macaluso, director of clinical trials research at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, says, “People who suffer from SAD feel tired, sad and experience a lack of interest in daily activities that are usually enjoyable. They may also experience poor concentration and a lack in appetite and the symptoms typically depart when spring arrives and the sun starts shining.” Although the weather plays a big part in the arrival and departure of SAD, most experts say there is a lot more to it than the sun that is hiding behind the clouds.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Trefzgermof, the weather only plays a small part in the winter blues, but it may not be the only cause. She explains, “It is indeed a very common problem, more common than people might think, but it cannot be blamed on the weather only. Most of the time, people suffer from SAD because the weather conditions in winter gives them the feeling they cannot stick to their normal routines.” In the past two months, many people in the U.S. have not been able to get to work due to winter storms and social activities may have been cancelled. Trefzgermof continues, “The fact that there are fewer opportunities to be social and active, triggers a feeling of isolation, which then may trigger the disorder. Anyone who suffers from SAD should try to fight it.”
Trefzgermof advises people to force themselves to move around, as exercise at any level of intensity is a mood enhancer. Exercise can also make it easier to get good sleep and it increases motivation. “I like to encourage my patients to plan activities ahead and to make sure they can look forward to something. For some, SAD is hard to fight in January and February, but those are the months that people should really work on it,” she says. Jane Ehrman agrees with Trefzgermof. Ehrman is a behavioral health specialist at the Cleveland Clinic and adds that poor nutrition may also be related to SAD. “Fattening foods are more popular when the weather is colder, but skipping your healthy diet can leave you without energy. My advice is to fuel the body with fiber, antioxidants and protein,” Ehrman says.
As the experts point out, the weather is only the first trigger of the winter blues, but may not be the only cause. What lies underneath is the behavior that cold weather triggers in people who are sensitive to SAD, such as not exercising and staying at home. Those who experience discomfort for more than two weeks, are advised to see a doctor and to remember that spring is only a few weeks away.
By Diana Herst