Doctors and medical professionals see a laundry list of illnesses during the winter. At urgent care centers in the United States, they see an average of three patient visits per hour and about 50 visits per day. During the winter, it’s peak common cold and influenza season, so you can imagine how numerous visits to urgent care centers are for these reasons.
An oft-overlooked part of health during the wintertime is seasonal depression. An estimated 25% of people are affected by seasonal depression, and some 11 million Americans experience seasonal depression’s more severe form: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
With much more subtle symptoms than bronchitis or the flu, seasonal depression still takes a toll of the people it affects. Let’s take a peek at how it manifests itself and some ways we can give the blues the boot.
Yes, It’s An Actual Thing
There are people who will tell you that seasonal depression and seasonal affective disorder aren’t actual conditions. Those people are wrong. Winter blues might be mild symptoms like moodiness, sluggishness, and slight weight gain. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) displays these symptoms but intensifies them in ways like the inability to leave the bed, severe mood swings, and substantial weight gain. Usually, people are diagnosed with SAD after two years of seasonally depressive symptoms.
How Does It Happen?
During the winter, days are shorter, there’s less sunlight, and temperatures are colder. Our bodies and brains adjust to this change and it literally changes our body chemistry. Our internal body clocks are disrupted by days being shorter than usual and this change affects some people more than others. Genetics, brain chemistry, and where you’re located on the planet all contribute to seasonal depression, so it can vary wildly per person. Where winters last longer, these symptoms are more common. Greater risk of seasonal depression has been linked to how much further above the equator you live. For instance, someone living in the Bahamas is far less likely to feel seasonal depression than someone living in Maine.
Yes, It’s Treatable
Because the winter blues are largely brought on by a lack of sunlight changing our internal clocks, exposure to sunlight is vital to evening things out. For those who won’t venture outdoors for it, many people buy light boxes that imitate natural sunlight. Research has shown this practice to be quite effective. For more severe cases, prescription medication may be required. Whatever treatment is needed, it’s important to consult your physician for their opinion.
While urgent care centers are packed with the intense illnesses that ride tandem with winter, your seasonal mental health is equally important. Winter blues are a real thing, so if these short, cold, dark months have you feeling down, reach out for help and take the appropriate steps to get your shine back.