With winter now upon us the days are shorter and many people are experiencing changes in sleep patterns, energy levels and mood.
"As the days get shorter a lot of people find it difficult to wake up in the mornings, feel more lethargic, or crave carbohydrate-rich foods like chocolate," said Associate Professor Greg Murray, convenor of clinical psychology programs at Swinburne University of Technology.
Murray said the extreme form of this common pattern of lowered mood and energy in winter, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is recognised as a type of recurrent depression.
"While winter SAD is most common in the northern hemisphere and appears to be rare in our temperate climate, research has shown that around 1 in 300 of the Australian adult population experiences SAD-like symptoms," he said.
"There is a trend for Australians to report lowered mood and energy levels in winter compared to the warmer months, but there are many ways to ease the symptoms."
To help ease the winter blues Murray offers the following tips:
- Ensure you get at least one hour of outdoor light each day, preferably in the morning.
- Make an effort to keep up your social life. A decrease in social activities during winter can have an impact on a person’s mood and energy levels. A ‘Winter Solstice’ or ‘Christmas in July’ dinner party could be a good idea.
- Keep well and active by continuing activities such as exercise. While more difficult to undertake in winter, it can help lift depressive symptoms. Consider a gym membership during the colder months.
- The winter reality of increased need for sleep, and the presence of colds and flu, mean we may not be as productive as we are in the warmer months. For some people, acceptance of this natural rhythm is an important part of winter wellbeing.
"Although for most of us the mood and energy changes in winter can be addressed with these simple strategies, it is important to remember that depression in winter can be a serious problem that may need professional attention," Murray said.
(Source: Swinburne University of Technology: June 2009)