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Seasonal Affective Disorder can hit hard during extra snowy winter

 Light therapy helps some people with seasonal affective disorder feel better.
Katherine Streeter
Light therapy helps some people with seasonal affective disorder feel better.

This winter has been outstanding for snow enthusiasts but it has also come with seasonal blues for some in the community.

Between snow sports and snow chores, not to mention winter driving, Wasatch Back residents know this winter hasn’t been a sunny one. Anecdotally, some residents said they’re struggling with the winter blues this year more than usual.

Dr. Colton Miller is a licensed psychologist who works at the Intermountain Round Valley Clinic. He said Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that occurs during the winter when the sun is less prevalent. Symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, feeling sad, tearful and hopeless or anxious and agitated.

“The sun provides multiple benefits to us," Miller said. "When it's warm and it's sunny, we tend to get out more so more socialization, more exercise, more movement. But also when we're not getting enough sun, that can affect our vitamin D levels, it can affect our serotonin levels. And those things have an impact on our mood."

Miller explained that SAD affects women more than men.

“One of the reasons might be is women always tend to be more social than men," Miller said. "And so when their social ability declines due to kind of hunkering down and not getting out as much, that can have an impact on their mood.”

According to Miller, the people he’s seen affected the most by SAD are folks who move to northern Utah from warmer climates.

“Arizona, Texas, California, and then they move to Utah, they tend to really struggle much more so than those who are raised in kind of more of winter, colder climates, because I think their bodies haven't adjusted to it," Miller said.

Miller said there are things people can do to help alleviate some of the winter blues, starting with self-care. He said to keep up with everyday routines, chores and activities. Spending time with friends and staying physically active also helps.

“Of course, if you live in this area, the people that I've worked with who don't have a lot of winter hobbies, whether that's skiing or snowshoeing or hiking in the snow or whatever it might be, they tend to struggle even more and that's due to a lack of movement and exercise,” he said.

According to Miller, vitamin D is crucial for mood stabilizing. And if people can’t get it from the sun, foods like salmon, whole eggs, mushrooms and milk are rich in vitamin D. And there’s always supplements and technology.

“The other way we can get vitamin D is through what's called light therapy. You can buy these light boxes or lamps, even on Amazon for $20, around there," Miller said. "You don't want to get those with UV. I'm not telling people to go to tanning bed, that can cause other problems, skin cancer.”

Miller said if things get bad and someone is struggling, they should call a primary care provider or mental health clinic.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Call 911 or the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988. You can also text "SIGNS" to 741741 for 24/7 anonymous, free crisis counseling.