Dr. Wood: How to cope with the wintertime blues

The long, dark, often rainy days of winter in South Sound can trigger depression.
The long, dark, often rainy days of winter in South Sound can trigger depression. TNS

With the change in seasons from summer to fall and winter, some people experience a change in their mood.

They may notice a change in their personal energy level and an increase in their need for sleep. Sometimes this combines with overeating and a craving for breads, pastas and other foods rich in carbohydrates. Other symptoms can be irritability, low energy, problems getting along with people, oversleeping and weight gain.

If you feel these symptoms when you typically would not experience them during spring and summer, and they are not connected to other major life changes (like loss of a job), the mood change may indicate a depressive episode. In the past, we would have called it Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Today, these behaviors and symptoms are categorized as a type of depressive disorder.

Anyone can experience these symptoms but research indicates that it is more common in people between the ages of 15 and 55. Research indicates that people living at higher altitudes have a higher risk, as do women.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may benefit from a regular exercise program. Harvard Medical School reports that “fast walking for about 35 minutes a day five times a week, or 60 minutes a day three times a week” has been found to be helpful. However, if the symptoms persist and significantly affect your behavior, make an appointment to see your health care provider, who can determine a care plan.

It’s normal to have days when you feel down, but if you feel this way for days at a time or if you start to lose interest in activities that you normally enjoy, then seek help. Be kind, and take care of yourself. Avoid using drugs like alcohol and marijuana, which may cause serious effects later. Medical treatment can help, so if you need help, don’t wait.

Additionally if you or someone you care about has thoughts of harming themselves, or if you use alcohol or other drugs to relax and function, call your primary health care provider or behavioral health service provider for help.

Or if you need help right away, some resources that can help are:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Crisis Resolution Services-Behavioral Health Resources: 360-754-1338 or 800-270-0041.

Crisis Clinic of Thurston & Mason Counties: 360-586-2800.

Crisis Clinic of Thurston & Mason Counties Youth Help Line: 360-586-2777.

Crisis Clinic Grays Harbor-Hoquiam Area: 360-532-HELP(4357) and 800-685-6556 (east Grays Harbor County and outside).

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us.