By the time winter solstice occurs in the middle of December, we are already well-acquainted with the change in season in Wisconsin.
The winter season brings along its own set of challenges for those of us on the farm; equipment takes longer to start, more layers are necessary before walking to the barn and let’s not get started with the ongoing battle of cold and flu season.
Shorter days and weather changes can lower your energy and make you feel blue, which also are classic symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression triggered by daylight and weather changes that commonly occurs during the winter.
Symptoms of SAD are often triggered by a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm, our biological time clock that regulates how our bodies function during sleep and waking hours. Common signs and symptoms of SAD include:
- A seasonal feeling of depression that happens most of the day, every day.
- Tiredness or low energy.
- Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy.
- Weight and appetite changes.
- Changes in sleep pattern.
If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of SAD, it is important to remember you are not alone. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 4 to 6% of Americans have SAD, while as many as 20% experience a mild form of it, often referred to as ‘the winter blues.’
If you are struggling with the winter blues, here are a few tips to help manage your symptoms:
- Prioritize social activities: Studies have found a relationship between depression and social isolation. Stay connected with others during the winter months by scheduling a casual hangout, visiting friends and relatives or getting off the farm with a loved one.
- Stick to a schedule: For those of us caring for animals, chores may already keep you on a schedule; however, those experiencing SAD often have trouble falling and staying asleep at night, or waking up in the morning. Maintaining a routine schedule has been shown to improve sleep and alleviate seasonal depression symptoms.
- Get your body moving: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to alleviate depression symptoms. Walking outdoors when the weather allows is an easy way to boost your energy and release endorphins. If bad weather is limiting your outdoor activity, try simple exercises such as sit-ups, crunches or push-ups that do not require additional equipment in the home.
- Get sunshine when you can: Get outside as much as you can to take advantage of the daylight hours. When indoors, let in as much natural light as possible by keeping shades and curtains open throughout the day.
- Talk with your doctor: While mild cases of the winter blues are common, SAD is a form of depression. Seek the help of a mental health professional or your physician if you are showing signs or symptoms of SAD.
Cassie Sonnentag is Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s director of media relations and outreach. Her and her husband, Allen (Bud), have one daughter and live near Cadott where they are involved in their family’s farm.