Understanding and Treating Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression

Author: Claire Cheshire  Editor: Alexander Bentley  Reviewed: Michael Por
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Key Takeaways on Seasonal Depression

  • Seasonal Depression is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  • Seasonal depression usually occurs in the Fall and Winter Months

  • 10%-20% of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder include lack of energy, changes in sleep patterns, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite.

  • Treatment of Seasonal Depression includes getting as much sunlight as possible, professional therapy and your doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

Understanding and Treating Seasonal Depression

 

It’s fall in the northern hemisphere, which means it’s time for the air to get cooler, for the nights to draw in, and for everyone to start putting on all their layers of sweaters again. For many, it’s a time to get excited about all these changes. For some, the darker months and shorter days take a toll on our psyche.

 

Seasonal depression, also known as winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect around 5% of people in the USA alone11.B. McMahon, P.1.i.037 Patients with seasonal affective disorder show seasonal fluctuations in their cerebral serotonin transporter binding, P.1.i.037 Patients with seasonal affective disorder show seasonal fluctuations in their cerebral serotonin transporter binding.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-5055271b-d7a6-329c-a757-3ad6ab6a2388. So, with so many sufferers every year, what is it, and how do we treat it?

 

What is Seasonal Depression?

 

As the name suggests, Seasonal depression is a type of depressive disorder brought on by the changing of the seasons, particularly in the fall, and typically continues into the winter months.

 

What does Seasonal Depression Feel Like?

 

While it is normal to feel a little more down in the winter months when the days are colder and shorter, and we are stuck inside more – 10-20% of Americans are thought to get a more mild ‘winter blues’ each year – seasonal depression has a deeper effect on the body.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects how you think and feel, and many of the main symptoms are shared with major depression. These include loss of interest in activities you enjoy, fatigue and lack of energy, changes in sleep patterns, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, or changes in appetite.

 

It is important to understand these symptoms, and how the change in weather relates to the onset of symptoms to tackle your Seasonal Affective Disorder and survive the struggles that winter brings with it. Feeling any of these symptoms does not make you a bad person, nor does it make your struggle any less valid when everyone around you is getting excited for all the fall and winter holidays.

 

Signs of Seasonal Depression

 

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

 

  • loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • fatigue
  • lack of energy
  • increased alcohol consumption
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • self medicating
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • out of character behavior
  • difficulty concentrating
  • changes in appetite

 

Treatment of Seasonal Depression

 

Treatment of Seasonal Depression includes getting as much sunlight as possible, professional therapy and your doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

 

So, if we know what the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder are and how they are similar to the symptoms of major depression, does that make the treatment of seasonal depression similar too? To some extent, yes it does. Many treatments that are recommended for major depression are also beneficial for Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as antidepressants and professional therapy.

 

However, some treatments are either different from those for major depression or should be highlighted more to beat depression in the winter months when their effects are most needed, and it is these that are worth discussing in more detail.

Treatment for Seasonal Depression vs Major Depression

 

Get more Sunlight to improve your mood

 

The treatment for seasonal depression which differs the most from major depression is the need to increase as much sunlight as possible. While sunlight is beneficial to everyone’s health, those suffering from seasonal depression feel the lack of sunlight due to fewer daylight hours more keenly, and this lack of light can trigger an even bigger drop in mood.

 

Getting enough sunlight is harder in the winter, especially as we spend more time inside due to the colder weather. It is advised that people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder make sure they go out at some point during daylight hours for at least 30 minutes to top up their levels of vitamin D to improve their overall mood.

 

Lamp for Seasonal Depression

 

If you have obligations such as work that keeps you inside during the limited hours of light? This is where SAD lamps come in. SAD lamps are specifically designed to help those with Seasonal Affected Disorder, using light therapy to trick the body into producing serotonin, as in warmer months.

 

These lamps use ultraviolet light to mimic sunlight and are best when used for 30 minutes to an hour per day. Although you may be skeptical, studies have proven that light therapies, including SAD lamps, help to boost serotonin and adjust your circadian rhythm, which is how your body monitors your sleep-wake cycle.

 

In regulating your circadian rhythm and boosting serotonin, Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps in turn reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.

 

Keep a Better Sleep Schedule

 

Another key treatment for seasonal depression is keeping a regular sleep schedule. This is particularly important throughout the winter months and therefore for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the body’s circadian rhythm is responsible for regulating when we sleep and when we wake and is massively dependent on light to regulate itself.

 

In consciously managing the times that we wake up and go to sleep every day, we help the circadian rhythm to remain stable, even as the amount of sunlight and vitamin D we receive daily diminishes.

 

Get More Exercise

 

Circadian rhythm is also supported by exercise, which produces melatonin and endorphins22.Y. Meesters and M. C. Gordijn, Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and treatment options – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5138072/. Melatonin is another chemical produced by the body, which is key to maintaining good sleep, while endorphins make you feel happier.

 

While the advice to get more exercise often feels boring or unhelpful, there is merit to it. Whether you choose to exercise in the morning, or in the evening makes no difference to how doing activity impacts your circadian rhythm but doing any exercise throughout your day helps it to stay regulated, balancing your sleep, your hormone production, and helping you to fight off seasonal depression in the process.

 

In aligning your body to be more physically tired and sleepy to line up closer with daylight hours, it can assist your circadian rhythm to work as well as possible during the winter seasons.

 

Therapy for Seasonal Depressive Disorder

 

Some people report feeling a new sense of energy after attending therapy and counseling for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Therapy options include a local therapist which you visit face to face, while an online therapy option, such as that provided by Betterhelp can help individuals around the World with low cost support throughout the week, not just during a one to one session.

Summary

 

In summary, seasonal depression is depression brought on by the change in the seasons and is more common in the fall and winter months when nights get longer, the temperature drops, and daylight is limited.

 

Many treatments recommended for major depression also work for seasonal depression. Increased relief from seasonal depression symptoms is found in methods such as SAD lamps, regular exercise, and a strict sleep schedule throughout the winter months to help your circadian rhythm operate optimally.

 

While those with other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or major depression are more likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the methods used to treat SAD are effective and continue to be beneficial as the warmer, lighter months of the year approach.

 

Previous: Increase Dopamine Naturally

Next: Overcome Situational Depression

  • 1
    1.B. McMahon, P.1.i.037 Patients with seasonal affective disorder show seasonal fluctuations in their cerebral serotonin transporter binding, P.1.i.037 Patients with seasonal affective disorder show seasonal fluctuations in their cerebral serotonin transporter binding.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-5055271b-d7a6-329c-a757-3ad6ab6a2388
  • 2
    2.Y. Meesters and M. C. Gordijn, Seasonal affective disorder, winter type: current insights and treatment options – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5138072/
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