There's something about a sunny day that appeals to most of us. The medical community advises that we, as a nation, are vitamin D deficient, and because vitamin D is absorbed through the skin from the sun, we need to spend 10 minutes a day outside in the sunshine.
However, this time of the year, just having passed winter solstice which is the shortest day of light in the year and sunset arriving around 5 p.m., we are short on daylight and sunshine.
And the interruptions to human biological clocks appear to affect mood and feelings resulting in the winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
No one can say for sure what causes SAD. It is a form of depression, and like any other depression, if it lasts too long, can develop into other problems. The symptoms of winter depression include anxiety, hopelessness, withdrawing from family, friends and other social connections, losing energy, sleeping too much, changes in appetite-particularly craving carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Uh-oh. There are all of those cookies and candies and other goodies left over from the holidays. Someone with SAD might gain weight or have difficulty concentrating or retaining information. They may just not enjoy things they always did before. Suicidal thoughts or behaviors also are possible. Persons with SAD may turn to alcohol to comfort themselves.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that "Most Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms stem from daily body rhythms that have gone out-of-sync with the sun."
SAD is common in the more northerly latitudes. More women than men experience SAD, however, men suffer it more severely. As depression worsens, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors, problems at work or school, social withdrawal and substance abuse.
When you feel down for days at a time, when you can't get motivated to do things that you used to enjoy, when sleep patterns and appetite have changed, it's time to talk to your doctor to find out what's going on with you and how you can best resolve your condition. Remember, you need to be proactive about your health care.
When you know what the diagnosis is, learn everything you can about it so you can discuss it with your doctor and make informed choices.
Before you visit your doctor, do your homework. What exactly are you feeling? Write those things down. Write down information about your depression problems: when does it start? What seems to make it better? What seems to make it worse? Note other mental or physical problems you may be experiencing. Note the major stressors or life changes you may have recently experienced. List all medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking. And write down questions to ask your doctor.
Everyone gets the blues now and then. But when they last too long, more than a few days, don't suffer if you don't need to. The first step is the most difficult. It may be really difficult to pick up the phone and make that call to ask for help. But you will start to feel better when you know you are taking steps to fix what is wrong.
Family Recovery Center can point you in the right direction for getting back to your emotional best. FRC promotes the well-being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs. Call us for more information at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@ familyrecovery.org.