The summer is coming to a close, the mornings are getting a bit brisk and the days are shorter. The turning of the leaves, the images of crisp colorful tans, oranges, and browns creates images of fire places and hot chocolate. Although these are very common and likeable images, the change in season can cause seasonal depression in some of us.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression, often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), is a form of depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter and ending in spring. It is more severe that the winter blues or “cabin fever.” In order to be diagnosed as having S.A.D rather than a first occurrence of depression, one must have a pattern of recurring depression during winter months.
What are the causes of seasonal depression?
S.A.D has been linked to a chemical imbalance precipitated by shorter days and decreased sunlight in the winter; with January and February being the most difficult months. Our moods are partly influenced by sunlight, melatonin, serotonin and Vitamin D. With that being said, melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep decreases when it is light. Serotonin, the hormone associated with elevated mood increases when it is light. Vitamin D helps the body maintain increased levels of serotonin during the winter. Residents of snowy, northern U.S. cities are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, and may not even know it.
What are the symptoms associated with S.A.D?
The symptoms of S.A.D mirror those of depressive disorder, which include
Loss of interest in regular activities
Withdrawal from social activities
Inability to concentrate
Extreme fatigue/lack of energy
Heavy, leaden sensation in limbs
Increased need for sleep
Craving for carbohydrates and accompanying weight gain
Preventative measures for S.A.D:
Exposure to light-get outdoors and enjoy the natural light, open the blinds and turn on the lights.
Exercise regularly-one of the most natural “anti-depressants” is exercise! There are many studies that show exercise can improve the mood in people with mild to moderate depression.
Balanced diet-I know, sometimes we want our comfort foods to take away the pain. There is nothing like comfort foods on a cold, wintry day. By no means am I suggesting that we shouldn’t treat ourselves once in a while. However, we must be able to differentiate between treating ourselves and emotional eating. Eating a well balanced diet will increase energy levels.
Social Support: Stay connected with your social circle; continue engaging in regular activities and daily routines.
How is S.A.D treated?
Treatment approaches to S.A.D are dependent upon the severity of your symptoms. Exposure to light (Get outdoors early in the day to expose yourself to more natural light), during winter months light therapy is recommended by some doctors and/or anti-depressants.
The change of seasons is yet another life transition that most of us experience at least quarterly. Although each of us experiences some sort of change in seasons, it affects us differently. If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, please talk to your doctor, contact a licensed therapist at HandinHand Counseling Services, LLC or reach out to family and friends. Please know that you do not have to suffer through this alone.
If you are interested in a free 15 minute consultation, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.