5 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

By Steve Calechman
January 14, 2022

For Beth Fleming, it all starts with daylight savings time. When the clocks go back, her anxiety amps up. She wants to go to bed earlier, and her creativity and enthusiasm drop. As the 40-year-old says, “The veil will come down.”

Blame seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While she wasn’t officially diagnosed until age 27, Beth says she’s felt the effects of SAD for as long as she can remember. Each year she hopes that it won’t show up, but then it does, and it stays until the warmer weather returns. “It’s a bummer,” she says. “I’m not used to running on lower energy.”

The cause of SAD isn’t exactly known, but it’s thought that the lack of sunlight disrupts circadian rhythms and levels of melatonin and serotonin. While symptoms vary, sleep is commonly compromised, leading to sluggishness and sometimes feelings of hopelessness. Some otherwise stable people may get SAD, but it often hits people who are already in therapy and can exacerbate existing problems, says Susan Albers, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. Fleming is bipolar and has obsessive-compulsive disorder. The medications that she normally takes help, but the SAD increases her rumination and intrusive thoughts to the point where, she says, “I make up tales I spin through my brain.”

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