Happy first day of fall! It's getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. If you find you have less pep in your step, or you're struggling to get work done, you may be experiencing the autumn blahs — and those could lead to the winter blues.
People who suffer from winter depression actually experience the first signs of it just as autumn sets in, according Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the psychiatrist who pioneered the idea of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
It’s all about light — or the lack of it, said Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the author of “Winter Blues: Everything You Need To Know To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
As the days get shorter, we experience less sunlight and that affects our mood. Of course, stress and genetics play a role in depression, but studies have shown 10 percent of those who live in northern states — where the days are shortest — experience some form of winter depression.
"If you catch the signs early," said Rosenthal, "then you have the energy, the focus and the time to do a good job of preempting the worse symptoms that will follow."
The signs include:
- You need more sleep than usual.
- You’re irritable.
- You’re slowing down.
- You’re putting on a pound or two.
- You’re going for the munchies, the sweets and the starches.
- Tasks feel like they’re more difficult for you.
Stay upbeat all season long with these three simple tips:
1. Take a walk outside.
- Even a 20-30 minute walk a day has health benefits. An autumn walk has an additional benefit — you’re getting as much valuable sunlight as you can before winter. He suggested early walks. “The morning is the most potent time for many people,” said Rosenthal.
2. Make sure light comes into your home or office.
- Trim any bushes that may have grown high over the summer.
- Clean windows.
- If you’re the kind of person who keeps the blinds closed all day long, rethink that. “Some people have heavy window treatments and that’s not good if you’re a light sensitive person,” says Rosenthal.
3. Put your bedside lamp on a timer.
- Set your lamp to come on a half an hour before you wake up. “There’s actual data that it works,” says Rosenthal. “Get light through your closed sleepy eyelids even before you wake up and it will give your brain a kick start.”
The bottom line?
You have more control than you think when it comes to preventing seasonal mood changes. “It’s very valuable to be proactive,” says Rosenthal. "Now is the perfect time to do that."
This story was originally published in October 2016.