Autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere signals that winter is near. While it is one of the most colorful seasons, there are many who feel a sense of desolation. Most of them tend to ignore their low moods around winter time, paving the way for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression related to changing seasons which is generally associated with the onset of winters. The typical symptoms of SAD are lethargy, lack of motivation and the inability to concentrate, which begins to surface either during late fall or early days of winter. An individual may feel better and less depressed when days get warmer or sunnier.

The phenomenon of SAD is still unexplained, but factors such as the disruption of the body's circadian pattern or natural sleep and wake cycles and drop in serotonin levels are thought to play a significant role in exacerbating the blues. When autumn sets in, the days get shorter and the nights gets longer. This means that one has less time to spend outdoors, which could be depressive for a person who enjoys outdoor activities. Also, winters have dull, greyish gloom which could cause one to feel gloomy even when they have no history of depression.

Driving away the blues

While life looks bleaker in winter compared to summer, one could take the following measures to improve the symptoms. It also helps to remain surrounded by close friends to tide over the negativity.

Getting some light: It is essential to get some light in the dark and cold weather. People who confine themselves in their rooms with a box of chips in front of the TV are at a greater risk of depression and physiological ailments like obesity than those who keep themselves on their toes. According to Dr. Mark Servis, professor of clinical psychiatry and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry, a person suffering from a mild case of blues could feel better by taking a walk outside. For those with severe winter depression, apart from regular medications, antidepressants, and psychological counseling, novel therapies such as the light box therapy can work. However, it is important to consult a therapist because continuous exposure to light or using the light box for too long could cause mania.

Increasing vitamin D intake: According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), all adults aged 19 to 70 should ensure that they get 600 IU of vitamin D each day. While sunlight is the natural source of vitamin D, it is found in plenty in fatty fish such as salmon, mushrooms, fortified milk and breakfast cereals. Studies have proven that vitamin D improves the mood better than phototherapy or light box therapy.

Winter exercises: Winter offers plenty of avenues to exercise one's muscles whether it be on the skating rink or on the snowy slopes. Physical activities generate heat in the body and feeling of warmth relaxes the mind. One can go for long walks or take the dog out for a walk every day in case they are not too keen on taking up adventure sports.

Road to recovery

SAD is not as crippling as clinical depression and it goes away after a while. However, if one is faced with consistent sad mood or suicidal thoughts in extreme cases, it is imperative to seek medical help immediately. Timely intervention ensures better treatment outcomes.