Is your mood affected by the weather? Do you dread the dark winter months?
Well, you may be one of the millions of Americans that suffer from seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder. Year after year, a significant reduction in sunlight coincides with many people feeling emotionally drained and even depressed.
It’s not fun to deal with seasonal depression, but there are helpful ways to manage it better. Continue reading for proven tips and coping strategies.
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that is characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern. It is generally associated with the winter months when days are shorter.
The weather is colder, and there is less sunshine, often causing people to stay indoors more. Some find it difficult to cope with a lack of motivation and debilitating fatigue. This form of depression can last from October to April but typically peaks in January and February in the Northern Hemisphere.
A much more uncommon form of SAD takes place during the summer months and is called summer depression.
What Causes SAD?
A reduction in sunlight is considered to be the most significant cause of winter-onset SAD. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression and other mental health conditions.
Your levels of serotonin will be impacted by the lack of sunlight. Serotonin, known as the “happy hormone,” is a brain chemical that affects your mood.
The change in seasons can also disrupt the body’s creation of melatonin. This chemical plays a significant role in mood and sleep patterns.
What Are the Symptoms and Who Suffers From It?
There are several seasonal depression symptoms. Not everyone who suffers from SAD will experience all the symptoms listed below:
- Sad mood
- Craving more starches and sweets
- Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
- Thoughts of despair and hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of depression for much of the day
- Feeling tired or lethargic
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Change in appetite or weight gain
SAD is more common among women, and the age of onset is between 20 and 30. It’s more commonly seen in young adults, and it’s more rare for people above the age of 50 to suffer from it.
Approximately 5% of adults in the United States suffer from SAD, though up to 20% of adults may experience it in a milder form. Those who live in longer and harsher winters, further away from the equator, are more likely to suffer from seasonal depression.
Four Ways to Manage Seasonal Depression
We cannot change the seasons, but we can take a few simple steps to beat the winter blues.
Moving the body is often the first port of call for those who suffer from any kind of depression. You release feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins when you exercise, thus boosting your mood.
It can be done inside or outside, depending on what you prefer. However, you may get more benefit if you exercise under the healing rays of the sun. Take a look at this blog to learn more about how exercising can improve your mental health.
A healthy diet and a good night’s sleep will also go a long way to beat seasonal depression.
2. Light Box Therapy
If you’re unable to receive much sunshine directly, it’s a good idea to consider light therapy, which uses Lightboxes to treat seasonal affective disorder. Lightboxes are significantly brighter than regular lightbulbs. They emit 10,000 lux and can help significantly reduce SAD symptoms.
You’ll sit in front of the light box for approximately 30 minutes each morning. Light therapy is considered very safe to treat SAD symptoms and keep the internal body clock on track.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests lightboxes are highly effective for treating SAD. A 2017 study found bright light therapy to be an “increasingly promising treatment option, particularly for those disorders that show seasonal variation in symptoms, delayed circadian phase, and depressive symptoms.”
3. Consider Different Therapy Options
There are many different treatment options for people who suffer from SAD. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider who can diagnose seasonal affective disorder. A healthcare professional will utilize assessment and treatment approaches to develop a treatment plan. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that modifies thought patterns to change moods and behaviors.
Talk therapy is another way to address mental health concerns with the guidance of a licensed mental health professional.
Antidepressants work by altering the chemicals in your brain. Some people with major depressive disorder find that antidepressants do not work for them. In which case, FDA-approved transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.
4. Get Some Sunshine and Be Social
If the sun is shining, push yourself out the front door! The lack of sunlight is the leading cause of SAD, so get yourself some Vitamin D when the opportunity arises.
People who suffer from seasonal depression typically have low levels of Vitamin D. This is caused by insufficient intake of this vitamin or inadequate sunlight exposure. Vitamin D from natural sunlight can boost your serotonin levels. You can also take a Vitamin D capsule daily!
Social interaction plays a role in relieving SAD symptoms. It’s essential that you make the extra effort to be sociable during the cold winter months, as social support has many mental health benefits. It’s normal to want to wrap up warm inside, but there are strong links between social isolation and depression.
Reach out to friends or family and organize a meal together or a walk in the park. Social interactions have a fantastic way of boosting your mood, and you’re probably not the only one who needs a lift from some pleasant company.
Beat Those Winter Blues
Managing seasonal depression can be done through simple lifestyle changes. Daily exercise, light therapy, and social interaction can play a huge role in minimizing the symptoms of seasonal depression. Visit a healthcare professional who can form a personalized treatment plan if you are suffering from symptoms of depression every year.