Harsh winter means SAD times for many
WORTHINGTON — The cold temperatures, howling wind, cloudy skies and blowing snow have tested even the hardiest of Minnesotans this year as we anxiously await the arrival of spring and an escape from the confines of our homes and offices.
If you think this winter is a little more challenging to endure than most, you’re not alone.
Louella Voigt, a licensed social worker and family therapist at Southwestern Mental Health Center’s Southwinds Assertive Community Treatment program, said mental health professionals are seeing more clients suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) this winter than in recent memory.
The shorter duration of daylight and winter weather can lead to depression in individuals. Some of the symptoms of SAD, in addition to experiencing it around the same time each year, are increased fatigue and lower energy, a depressed mood, an increased sense of tearfulness and a craving for carbohydrates.
Studies have shown that SAD is more prevalent in women than men, and younger individuals are more at risk of seasonal depression than older people. SAD is also more common in higher latitudes with shorter daylight hours, such as in Minnesota.
“I think there are many people that suffer from seasonal affective disorder in the winter time,” Voigt said, adding that a person’s lifestyle can greatly impact their depressed mood.
Getting sufficient exercise and sleep, eating proper, nutritious foods and being involved with social activities — things that are part of a healthy lifestyle — can counteract weather-related depressive moods, she said.
Of course, taking a trip to a tropical climate can also work wonders.
Sue Hoffman, owner of Great Planes Travel in Luverne, said January has been an extremely busy month with clients seeking a southern destination.
Top destinations, she said, include the Dominican Republic, Riviera Maya, Cabo and St. Thomas. For those who prefer to stay in the U.S., Florida has been most popular.
“There’s a lot (of people) that just want to get out of here,” Hoffman said, adding that her office is fielding travel requests via phone, email and text messages or through Facebook.
With more than 25 years of experience in the travel industry, Hoffman said, “It seems like this time of year, every year, we get a lot of ‘We need to get out of here.’”
While she’s now booking trips for mid-February, Hoffman said the greatest challenge this winter has been dealing with flight cancellations due to weather issues.
At The Travel Place in Windom, owner Tammy Boerst has seen one of the busiest winters in her 33 years of business.
“This has to be the most overwhelming year I have had,” she said, adding that people are coming in and, within a week or two, they are in route to their warmer destination.
“They are going everywhere,” she said. “The top destination is warmth.”
Boerst said she’s even had clients come in, plop a credit card down on the counter, and say, “Book me. I don’t care (where).”
While the first two weeks in January typically offer the best travel deals, Boerst said people can still book a trip to a tropical destination.
And, if you can’t afford a flight out of state, there are some other options available.
Voigt said she has taken clients dealing with SAD to places as common as a greenhouse. Filled with green plants, warm temperatures and humid climates, she said a person depressed about the weather needs only a couple of hours wandering through a greenhouse to help lighten their mood.
Other options she recommends are a day or weekend trip to the Butterfly House in Sioux Falls, S.D., or the Henry Doorly Zoo’s rainforest exhibit in Omaha, Neb.
“I think it’s a wonderful tropical vacation for those of us who can’t afford Caribbean cruises or trips to Florida,” Voigt said.
Light therapy is commonly prescribed for individuals diagnosed with SAD. Bright lights that simulate sunlight, used early in the day, affects the melatonin produced by the body at night, explained Voigt.
“You certainly can get a light and sit under it, but also taking a walk outside in mid-morning will get you the necessary light on your eyeballs, give you the benefit of physical activity and will promote sleep at night” she said.
Use of the lights can be prescribed by a physician, and Voigt encourages people to coordinate proper light use through their doctor.
“There is no one treatment that is best for everyone,” she said. “Each of our bodies is unique, so the treatment is very unique as well. It takes professional guidance to find the proper balance.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.