Next time people accuse you of being lazy and willful, tell them it's not your fault, it's the winter blues! The winter season's shortened days have been found to leave many teens, especially girls, battered by fatigue and depression—aka winter blues. Studies show that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, first strikes during puberty and affects more than a million middle and high-school kids across the country by giving them the winter blues. They go through a darkness-induced stretch of misery when the hours of light start dwindling to around five fewer hours than during June and July. If you're one of those who dread the approaching darker days of winter, who find it harder to get up on time and stay focused, who crave sugary and/or starch foods, and feel cranky too often, read on about winter blues.
How do you know if you suffer from SAD or if you're depressed? SAD is by definition seasonal in nature, just like the winter blues. If you haven't felt this way during at least two winters in a row, and if you haven't been relieved of symptoms during the spring and summer, than you don't have SAD.
What causes SAD? Like any other animal, humans react to the seasonal changes with adjustments in mood, sleeping, and eating habits. One theory is that serotonin, the chemical in the brain believed to play a major role in depression, falls to its lowest levels during the winter months. Others think it has to do with melatonin, a hormone produced at increased levels in the dark.
What can you do to lighten your winter blues?
Don't resign yourself to months of symptoms including daytime drowsiness, loss of energy, overeating headaches, anxiety, and the inability to sleep. Instead, you might try to:
- Sit near the window in class and go outside for lunch if it's not too cold.
- Eat more protein and fiber to reduce the carb cravings.
- Exercise regularly to boost your spirits.
- Let more light in at home by opening the curtains and turning on lamps wherever possible.
- Try yoga and meditation, proven mood boosters.
- Keep to a regular sleep schedule.
- Wake up to light by putting your bedside lamp on a timer to go on an hour before you wake up.
- Use family and friends to cheer you, the same as you would for any blah mood.
What if those solutions don't help?
If your condition is resistant to the above approaches, see your doctor. For all its mystery, SAD is highly treatable. Since a lack of light is the main cause of this winter blues disorder, sufferers might find relief through light therapy, in which they are exposed to bright light for 30 minutes to two hours a day. There are several different kinds of high-intensity artificial light boxes on the market.
To those who dismiss SAD as so-much new age winter blues hooey, tell them that Hippocrates was the first to notice a link between sunlight and psychological well-being. It only took American researchers till the 1980s to verify his findings about the winter blues.