Column: Don’t brush off the winter blues

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Commentary by Dr. Cara Hannemann

We’re staring down another winter amid a pandemic. The days continue to get shorter. There’s less sunshine, and the cold weather keeps us inside — where we tend to be less active and less social.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Moods can change like (and with) the seasons, and feeling sad or not like our usual selves is common during these months. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of seasonal depression that has a tendency to start right around late fall/early winter (i.e., the “winter blues”), and some people don’t start to feel better until spring when we finally have longer daylight hours.

SAD is thought to be caused by a lack of light. Symptoms can include:

  • Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Lower energy; feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating

Beat the winter blues

There is good news. Treatments can help improve SAD symptoms, including:

  • Light therapy: If weather keeps you from being out in the natural light, the internet is teeming with easy-to-use light therapy lamps.
  • Psychotherapy: Talking with a licensed therapist can help you navigate your troubling seasonal symptoms. A great site to search for support is bewellindiana.com.
  • Vitamin D: We all need it, and sunshine is one of the best sources of vitamin D. When winter gets in the way, vitamin D supplements are a great alternative. Certain foods are loaded with vitamin D, like salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms.
  • Antidepressant medications: As a last resort, you can talk to your health care provider about the possibility of prescription antidepressants.

Letting symptoms linger without treatment beyond the typical winter period can result in more prolonged mental health issues. Don’t brush off SAD symptoms, and maybe even try to be intentional about enjoying the winter season!

Dr. Cara Hannemann is a Fishers resident and clinical psychologist with the Indiana Hemophilia Thrombosis Center in Indianapolis. She helps patients navigate the complex mental health issues that can coincide with rare and chronic bleeding and blood disorders.


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