Low mood during winter is a common problem, and there are many ways your doctor can help. For mild cases of winter blues, your doctor will be able to recommend lifestyle changes to help you feel better. If you're suffering from a more severe winter depression, then your doctor may diagnose you with seasonal affective disorder, known as SAD. Treatment will usually involve a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and the use of specialist items, like a SAD light. Read on to find out what to expect when you visit the medical centre.
Check for deficiencies
Shorter days and less sunlight mean that most of us don't get as much vitamin D during winter, which can contribute to low mood. It's also easy to fall into unhealthy eating habits while it's chilly, which can also contribute to vitamin deficiencies. A simple blood test will allow your doctor to identify any deficiencies and recommend supplements. In severe cases of vitamin deficiency, you might be offered a short course of injections to bring your levels back into the healthy range. In the long term, eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help you to feel better all year round.
The symptoms of SAD are very similar to typical depression—they're just more affected by the changing seasons. Since they're so similar, SAD is often treated with antidepressants. You might only need to take medication during the season when your symptoms arise, or your doctor may recommend staying on a low dose permanently, to avoid any unpleasant side effects associated with starting and stopping the medication.
Your doctor will probably prescribe an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) to begin with, then monitor your progress. If your condition doesn't improve, then you'll usually be prescribed an alternative, like an SNRI (serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors) or TCA (tricyclic antidepressant). It can take some trial and error to find the right medication for you.
Recommend lifestyle changes
Getting more exercise, spending time outside in the sunshine, and eating a healthier diet are all proven to improve the symptoms of seasonal depression. You might also benefit from purchasing a special SAD light. Sitting in front of one of these bright lights for an hour or two a day has been shown to boost mood during winter. SAD lights can be combined with dawn simulating alarm clocks, which gently light your room to help you wake up naturally, even when the sun hasn't yet risen. This is perfect if you struggle to find the motivation to get up when it's still dark.