These symptoms are signs that you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder — or SAD, a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter. Indeed, as many as one in five Americans have SAD, and 75 percent are women, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
What causes SAD? Sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Less light results in lower serotonin levels. Darkness prompts the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that results in SAD.
Here are two simple ways to combat the winter blues:
Drink coffee. An association has been found between mood and coffee drinking in a recent Nurses’ Health Study. Women who drank more than four cups a day had a 20 percent lower risk of depression than women who drank less.
If you like coffee, it’s worth a try, especially if having a cup means getting in the car, getting out into the sunlight and socializing with other coffee drinkers
Get social. All that real or imagined hibernation is probably cutting into your social life, and social support is way up there for helping you feel happy and is key in lessening depression. Pushing yourself may be the way here: even if you don’t feel like going out once the sun sets, make commitments that force the issue, and stick to them. Chances are you’ll come home feeling so much better than when you left.