Cleaning Up after Snow Offers Hefty Dose of Winter Fatigue

By: Chris Stover Email
By: Chris Stover Email

March 4, 2014

The snow many be white, but many people in Central Virginia are seeing the winter blues.

"It's kind of nice, but I'm ready for the warm weather where we can use the outdoors a little more," Charlottesville resident Tyler Whitney said.

The combination of low temperatures, slushy roads and icy sidewalks have many yearning for spring.

"I want to get out of the house," Albemarle County resident Ashley Bond said. "I don't want school to be canceled. I just want to go and hang out with my friends and do stuff."

However, some people can have a severe reaction to a long winter.

"There are a lot of people who have seasonal affective disorder but never really frame it as an illness," said Dr. Randolph Canterbury, the senior associate dean of education at the UVa Medical Center and a professor of psychiatry.

Canterbury says not to confuse simple winter fatigue with seasonal affective disorder.

"People with seasonal affective disorder commonly get it every year. And so they will tell you it comes in all forms," Canterbury said. "Some of it's very mild. Other people get quite depressed and dysfunctional because of it."

The disorder is characterized by a lack of energy. People tend to eat too much, gain weight and want to sleep all the time.

"It seems to be based on sunlight. No one understands the mechanism entirely," Canterbury said. "Typically, the depression has its onset in fall, maybe October, and lasts until spring comes."

There are ways to treat it, including medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, but Canterbury said light therapy can be very effective.

"If you expose people to a certain amount of full wavelength light every morning at the same time for about 30 to 45 minutes, it will prevent or treat seasonal affective disorder," he said.

However, it's important not to diagnose general cabin fever as seasonal affective disorder.

"Getting tired of winter occurs in most of us, but it is not seasonal affective disorder," Canterbury said.

"I'm definitely ready for spring. It's so cold," Albemarle County resident Elisia Holderfield said. "Snow is great. I've had enough of it though. I'm ready for it to leave."

Canterbury said seasonal affective disorder doesn't occur in locations near the equator up to latitude 17. Charlottesville, for example, sits at 38 degrees north.

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