By Lynne Morioka - Contributor

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What to do when you’ve got the “winter blues”

January 10, 2018

So many of us living in the north know the drill– sun-soaked days and crisp fall nights quickly give way to arctic temperatures, long hours of darkness and face-freezing conditions that make even the most hardcore winter lover want to hibernate.

But for those who suffer from the “winter blues,” also known as seasonal depression, the symptoms of the season can be overwhelming.

“Seasonal depression is a mood problem seems to affect about five percent of the population,” says Dr. Russell Morfitt, co-founder and chief psychology officer of Learn to Live. “It’s a bit controversial. Some recent studies have called into question some of the assumptions we’ve made about it, but people who experience it will tell you it goes way beyond just moods.”

“People who experience [seasonal depression] will tell you it goes way beyond just moods,” -Dr. Russ Morfitt

Causes of seasonal depression

Dr. Morfitt says depression in general is a complex subject, but everything from genetics and environments to sunlight exposure and lifestyle choices can contribute to who is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some of the symptoms include:

  • Sadness
  • Discouragement
  • Less interested in things you used to enjoy
  • An increase in appetite with accompanying weight gain
  • An increase in number of hours you’re sleeping
  • Less energy
  • More restless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Trouble concentrating, focusing or making decisions


Managing seasonal depression

If you find yourself experiencing some or all of the above symptoms on a seasonal basis, Dr. Morfitt suggests some of the following techniques to manage SAD:

Start with lifestyle changes

If winter tends to make you feel like a sedentary cabin dweller, find several ways to get out and socialize more. Take the activities you enjoy during warmer months and translate them into activities you can do during winter – volunteering, brisk walking (indoors or outdoors), skiing, skating or even sledding. Outdoor activities can be important to experience the benefit of sunlight.

Let the light shine

Whenever possible, arrange your home or office environment so you can spend more time by a window to increase the amount of daylight you’re exposed to. You can also use a special light box (invest in one that meets SAD specifications) to add the right kind of safe light.

Learn to Live

“Our Learn to Live programs offer powerful tools for depression so many people at various levels of severity have used the programs with success,” says Dr. Morfitt.

“The overall mindset is, ‘How can I become more active? How can I take this on as a challenge and an opportunity to learn tools that would really help with all kinds of depression?’”

When to seek help to manage seasonal depression

Dr. Morfitt cautions that people should see a healthcare or mental health professional if they are experiencing significant changes, such as weight gain or concentration problems, that are affecting quality of life. And anyone having thoughts of death or suicide should contact a doctor immediately.

Antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy – a kind of talk therapy used to identify problematic thoughts and modify behavior patterns – are very effective in treating persistent cases of seasonal depression.

How Learn To Live helps

Learn to Live provides online self-help programs to address psychological problems such as depression, social anxiety, stress, anxiety and worry.

Program users work through several assessments of mood, thought processes and life situations to determine what issues they’d like to work on. From there, they can take online lessons, which last about half an hour, in order to start to reduce their stress, anxiety or depression.

 To learn more about Learn to Live and experience their programs, visit their website at Learn to Live’s programs are available at no cost for select Blue Cross plans. To find out if you have free access, please call your Blue Cross customer service representative. If you’d like help with your stress, call the number on the back of your member card to find a health care professional.

As part of a strategic commitment to build a broad portfolio of health solutions, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota made a financial investment in Learn to Live in 2016.

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