Seasonal Depression Is Not Just The “Winter Blues”

in Depression Treatment

Seasonal Depression

As the days shorten and the weather gets colder, many people find that their mood decreases along with the amount of daylight.

If you find yourself depressed or more depressed than usual during the fall and winter months, you may be suffering from a specific kind of seasonal depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Medical DiseaseSymptoms Of SAD

The primary symptom of SAD is that it occurs during the fall and winter months when the days are shorter.

This happens because a person is exposed to less natural light, resulting in several consequences that will be explained below.

Other common symptoms of seasonal depression include

  • Increased fatigue
  • Lethargy and disinterest in social activities
  • Increased appetite, especially for carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling “heavy”
  • Sleeping more
  • Inability to concentrate

QuestionWhat Causes Seasonal Depression?

An imbalance in brain chemistry caused by decreased exposure to natural light (sunlight) is thought to be the cause of SAD.

One reason for seasonal depression symptoms is that sunlight is necessary for the production of vitamin D in the body. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression and fatigue among other conditions.

In addition, shorter days cause a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle by stimulating the production of the hormone melatonin.

Melatonin is produced in the dark and is related to sleep, so when melatonin production increases, a person feels more tired and lethargic.

Lack of sunlight also interferes with the body’s circadian rhythms, which tell you when to sleep and when to be awake and alert.

Darkness also affects the levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Depleted serotonin levels are linked with all forms of depression.

Who Develops Seasonal Depression?

Anyone can feel more depressed in the autumn and winter, but you are more likely to suffer from SAD if you

• live farther from the equator.

• have a history of clinical depression, bipolar disorder or an anxiety disorder.

• work indoors in a room without windows.

• are a woman.

• are between 18 and 30 years old.

TickWhat Can You Do About Mild To Moderate Seasonal Depression?

There are many things you can do on your own to help ease the symptoms of SAD. However, if your symptoms are severe and you find that they significantly interfere with your life, you may want to see your doctor.

In the meantime, here are some things you can try:

Brighten Your Surroundings

Living Room

Do as much as possible to let sunlight into your home or office. Keep blinds open and try to sit near windows, for example. If tree branches are blocking sunlight, trim them back so the light can come in.

You may even want to add skylights to your home if SAD is an ongoing issue for you. You can brighten the surroundings inside your home or office as well. For example, wear “sunny colors” and try surrounding yourself with colorful flowers or plants.

Try adding colorful paintings or holiday decorations to your environment to brighten things up as well.

Get Out Of The House

Walking DogWhile it’s usually easy to find yourself outdoors in the spring and summer, you’ll probably have to make a conscious effort to get outside in the autumn and winter.

Even though it’s colder out, getting out into the natural sunlight will make a difference. Spend as much time as possible outside, especially on sunny days.

Take short walks or, if the weather is mild enough, eat lunch in the park. Shop in outdoor malls or walk to errands that are close by if you can.

Exercise

Janu ExerciseRegular exercise is important for two reasons if you suffer from seasonal depression disorder. First, it helps to counteract the tendency to gain weight and second, it will help increase your energy and boost your mood.

Any kind of exercise is better than none, so don’t think you have to run marathons or do intense workouts at the gym. Try a brisk walk or a yoga class or some simple stretching and strength training.

The important thing is to move, even though your body will resist this. Exercising for as few as twenty minutes once or twice a day will help reduce the symptoms of seasonal depression disorder.

Herbal Remedies

St John's WortA few herbs and nutritional remedies have been shown to have positive effects on the symptoms of depression. These remedies, which include St. John’s Wort, SAMe and Omega-3 fatty acids, may also be part of a seasonal affective disorder treatment plan.

St. John’s Wort is an herb long used to treat mild to moderate depression and other disorders.

SAMe is a synthetic form of a chemical known as S -Adenosyl methionine that occurs naturally in the body and is thought to help brain function.

It is available over the counter in some places and is used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the healthy fats found in fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. It is also found in some nuts and grains, and you can also buy fish oil or omega-3 capsules in supplement form.

Omega-3 fatty acids are said to be important for the brain to function well, and some studies have associated diets high in omega-3 with fewer symptoms of depression.

Mind-Body Treatments

There are several holistic approaches to wellness that offer promising results for people who have seasonal affective disorder symptoms.

These treatments, which target overall physical and mental well-being, include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Hypnosis/Guided Imagery

Be Around People

FriendsSocializing can be a challenge for anyone with depression, but if you find yourself withdrawing from all social activities due to SAD, try to find some time to connect with others once in a while.

Social connections offer the opportunity to take your mind off your depression and can also give you the support system you need to cope with your symptoms.

Try scheduling one social activity per week. It can be as simple as meeting a neighbor for a cup of tea or seeing a movie with a friend. Go to the gym or find a community event to attend.

Make it fun or even try something new. For example, take a class at a local craft store or join a book club.

Light Therapy

Light TherapyThere are special fluorescent lamps that you can buy to treat SAD. The treatment, known as phototherapy, usually involves about 30 to 90 minutes per day of exposure to the very bright light emitted from the lamp.

Since you need to have a specific kind of lamp or light box for light therapy to work, you may need to do some research or consult your doctor before choosing a specific light therapy product to buy.

When Should You See A Doctor For Seasonal Depression?

In many cases, you can manage seasonal depression symptoms on your own.

However, you should consult a doctor and seek professional help if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Complete social withdrawal
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Inability to function at work or in school
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

In severe cases, a short course of psychotherapy or prescription medication may be necessary to keep the symptoms from getting out of control and turning into full blown clinical depression.

SAD is treated with the same medications that are used to treat clinical depression in other forms.

Depression bookYou can find more ideas on how to treat SAD or depression in general in the End Your Depression ebook.

The book is a comprehensive guide to all forms of depression and provides more detail on ways to treat the condition.

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