We all begin the new year with optimism and devout resolutions to make the coming year the best one ever. With the holidays just behind us and plenty of holiday cheer to fuel our hopes and dreams, the coming year offers a beacon of hope for better times ahead. But once the champaign wears off and the holiday cheer translates to muffin tops, optimism quickly wears thin, overshadowed by a growing aura of gloom.
For many people, the span of time from January through March (aka winter) is marked by a growing sense of depression and sadness. In fact the acronym SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder, a temporary form of depression experienced during the winter months. The severity of seasonal affective disorder varies among its sufferers, ranging from mild depression to thoughts of suicide.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although the precise mechanisms that trigger SAD are uncertain, reduced exposure to sunlight is thought to play a major role. People who live farther away from the equator where daylight is substantially reduced in winter are more susceptible to SAD and its symptoms. Women are more prone to SAD than men.
Researchers speculate that several factors may play a role in the onset of SAD:
- Disrupted circadian rhythms: Your body’s sleep and wake cycles are regulated by sunlight. Longer nights should mean more sleep, but today’s high-tech world keeps us from tapping into our natural circadian sleep cycles, which are easier to conform to in summer.
- Reduced production of serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that moderates mood. Serotonin levels naturally drop during winter to protect us from environmental stress.
- Disrupted levels of melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone produced by your body to regulate sleep and mood. Its levels decrease during the winter months in response to reduced exposure to sunlight.
- Reduced levels of Vitamin D: Your body uses sunlight to make Vitamin D, which is linked to serotonin. Reduced Vitamin D may impact serotonin levels during winter, contributing to depression.
Shorter days and longer nights play a role in SAD, but other elements come into play as well. Colder, more inclement weather keeps people indoors, reducing physical activity levels and limiting sun exposure even more. Fewer social events and holidays take place between January and March, reducing social interactions and darkening moods. Cold and flu season is at its peak in the winter months, causing many to become ill and creating further social isolation. Nutrition may also play a role, as people turn to carbohydrate-rich “comfort foods” in lieu of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink less water.
The characteristics and severity of seasonal affective disorder vary from one individual to the next, and for many the onset and resolution of symptoms occur around the same time each year.
Common symptoms include:
- overblown anxiety
- feelings of unworthiness
- stress and irritability
- difficulty in decision-making
- reduced focus and concentration
- ongoing negative mood
- reduced sex drive
- feelings of restlessness
- fatigue and lethargy
- social withdrawal
- overeating and carbohydrate cravings
- thoughts of suicide
It is important to note that many of the symptoms of SAD mimic those of physical inactivity, nutritional deficiencies and dehydration.
Most Effective Treatments for SAD
- Go outside: Getting outdoors in the winter months may be one of the most effective treatments for SAD. Even if the skies are cloudy or overcast, you will still get enough natural sunlight to make a difference. Choose the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky to maximize your exposure. Be sure to bundle up against the cold, and avoid wearing sunglasses to let in the light.
- Get moving: Physical activity, especially outdoors, can be highly effective for treating SAD. Increased levels of endorphins combined with more sunlight can make a profound impact. Exposure to cold temperatures has also been shown to positively affect mood and reduce anxiety. Shoveling snow, sledding, skating, skiing, walking or a good old fashioned snowball fight are sure to elevate your mood.
- Eat your veggies: A salad may not sound like the best way to warm up your body, but eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in winter will boost your immune system and your mood. Likewise, staying hydrated is key to a healthy body and mind, yet people tend to drink less water in winter. A rich homemade vegetable soup is a great option if a salad doesn’t sound appealing. As an alternative to water, drink plenty of herbal tea.
- Vitamin B12 Injections: Many people benefit from Vitamin B12 injections to improve mood and boost energy. Shots are quick, inexpensive and painless, and deliver a potent dose of cobalamin, which is essential for mood regulation, energy production and other important metabolic processes.
- Whole Body Cryotherapy: While a blast of cold air against your bare skin may not sound appealing on a cold winter day, WBC has been shown to positively affect mood. A study published in Archives of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy found WBC to significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression in study participants.
Cryotherapy and IV Vitamin Therapy NYC
If winter days give you the blues, help is nearby at Advanced Cryo NYC in Manhattan. Treat your nutrient-depleted body to an IV Vitamin cocktail, get a quick boost of energy with a B12 injection, or take a polar plunge into our whole body cryotherapy chamber for improved mood, better sleep and a host of other health benefits. Contact Advanced Cryo NYC today, and put the freeze on SAD.
Rymaszewska, Joanna, and David Ramsey. “Whole body cryotherapy as a novel adjuvant therapy for depression and anxiety.” Archives of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy 10.2 (2008).