The Winter Blues

Written by Coach Kendall

As summer officially comes to an end, our days in Cleveland are getting both shorter and colder. Although the fall and winter season brings holiday joy, many of us may experience the “winter blues”. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 5% of Americans will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder and 10-20% will experience a milder form of the “winter blues” (Cleveland Clinic Foundation 2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes called SAD, is a type of depression triggered by changes in the season and weather patterns. Symptoms typically arise during the late fall and beginning of winter and can last about 40% of the year (American Psychiatric Foundation 2020).

SAD is classified as a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. Symptoms of depression include Intense sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities that would typically be pleasurable, trouble sleeping, and thoughts of suicide (Cleveland Clinic Foundation 2022). While these symptoms are associated with depressive disorders, many Americans who experience milder forms of the “winter blues” may also experience these as well (American Psychiatric Foundation 2020). SAD most commonly affects people who live in climates with extreme shifts in weather making those who live in the Northern States generally at a higher risk.

Our bodies function on a tight schedule, similar to a clock. As seasons shift, so does your biological clock. Your biological clock regulates hormones, sleep, and mood. For some, the fluctuation in hormone levels can cause disruption to typical sleep patterns and can cause disruption to typical sleep patterns and can cause disruption to typical sleep patterns and can be a catalyst for developing SAD (Epstein and Hassan 2020). In addition, chemical imbalances in the brain can be disrupted by the shift in weather patterns. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow communication between our brain and the rest of our body.

Some people are already at a higher risk for developing imbalances in certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin; an important regulator of mood. For many of us here in Cleveland, it may be dark out when we leave for work and when we are headed home, giving us minimal sun exposure. Sunlight is an important regulator of serotonin and as the amount of sunlight you are exposed to decreases the amount of serotonin produced in the body can be affected. Variations in the amount of serotonin produced in the body can lead to mood changes and other mental health issues including SAD (Young, n.d.). 

So how can you navigate this?

Exercise is commonly recommended as a way to alleviate symptoms of depression, especially in conjunction with other forms of treatment. Exercise causes an increase in endorphins, serotonin levels, and stress hormones. According to research published in Neuropharmacology, movement, and motor function increase the function of serotonin neurons which increases the amount of serotonin synthesized in the body (Young, n.d.).

In addition, consistent exercise has been seen to improve sleep, give you a sense of control, and boost self-esteem. It’s important to engage in activities that bring a feeling of joy rather than dread to maintain consistency and improve mood. People who suffer from SAD typically also experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. Engaging in physical activities, especially in a group or recreational setting can give people a sense of community and improve feelings of social withdrawal (“Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska” 2021). So if you are ever feeling down this winter just remember you are part of a community here at Paragon and we will always be here to support you!

If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or thoughts of suicide, know that you are not alone. Below is a list of resources to help you and your loved ones. Here at Paragon we hope to provide a safe space for you and can help you access any resources you may need. 

24/7 Crisis Hotline: 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

988lifeline.org

  • If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org

Crisis Text Line

  • Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Frontline Services, Cuyahoga County – 24 Hour Crisis and Suicide Hotline

  • Call 216-623-6888 

NAMI Information (non-crisis) Line

  • (800) 950-NAMI
  • The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 10 p.m.

References

American Psychiatric Foundation. 2020. “Psychiatry.org – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/seasonal-affective-disorder.

Cleveland Clinic Foundation. 2022. “Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder).” Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression.

Epstein, Lawrence, and Syed M. Hassan. 2020. “Why your sleep and wake cycles affect your mood.” Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-your-sleep-and-wake-cycles-affect-your-mood-2020051319792.

“Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska.” 2021. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8079121/.

Young, Simon N. n.d. “How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.” NCBI. Accessed October 19, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/#r61-1.

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