Is Seasonal Depression Real?

Woman's hand on window - Seasonal Depression

When the seasons start changing, you often find yourself depressed without any valid reason. You have lack of energy and motivation for your usual activities. You notice that you oversleep and overeat, and hence gain more weight. When this happens at the same time of the year, it is Seasonal Depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Mostly, SAD occurs in late fall or early winter and goes away during spring and summer, this is called winter depression or winter-pattern SAD. A rare form of Seasonal Affective Disorder affects some people during spring and summer, this is called summer depression or summer-pattern SAD.

According to National Institute of Mental Health, millions of adults suffer from seasonal depression but they may not be aware of it. It is more common in women than in men, and more common in those living farther north, where daylight hours are shorter in winter.

What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression is a major depressive disorder in which you experience symptoms of mood changes and depression with seasonal patterns. Its symptoms vary depending on the time it occurs.

Seasonal depression symptoms in winters

Seasonal depression in winters is more common. A mild version of this disorder is called ‘winter blues’ in which you feel a little down in colder months since you are mostly trapped indoors. But full winter-pattern seasonal depression is beyond this. Winter-pattern seasonal depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious, sad, hopeless, irritated and restless
  • Gaining weight due to more carbohydrate cravings, other appetite changes
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Withdrawal or loss of interest from social life or other enjoyable activities
  • Having sleeping problems mostly oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Low energy, feeling exhausted
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
  • Feeling heaviness is arms and legs

Seasonal depression symptoms in summer

Seasonal depression in summer is rare, but it exists. It begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. Summer-pattern seasonal depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious, irritated and restless
  • Low appetite resulting in weight loss
  • Lack of proper sleep (insomnia)
  • Behaving violently

What Causes Seasonal Depression

The exact cause of seasonal depression is not known but research shows that it may be caused by reduced activity of serotonin, a brain chemical, which helps in regulating your mood. Sunlight is responsible for maintaining the levels of serotonin. It is the sunlight that helps produce Vitamin D, which in turn boosts serotonin.

So when there is lack of sunlight in fall or winter, the body produces less serotonin resulting in change of mood and hence depression. Sunlight also affects another chemical called melatonin, which affects the sleep patterns. Lack of sunlight results in increase of melatonin, causing you to be lazy and sleepy.

Sunlight also changes your biological clock. When the days get shorter, you get out of step with your routine and find difficulty adjusting to daylight change.

How to Treat Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression treatment can be discussed with your health care provider once you are diagnosed with seasonal depression. He will decide which treatment will work best for you, based on your symptoms. Some of the options for seasonal depression treatment include:

Use light therapy (phototherapy)

A special lamp, with a filter for Ultraviolet rays, can help treat seasonal depression. 20 times brighter than your normal indoor light, this light for seasonal depression, should be placed about 2-3 feet away from where you are doing your work or other activities like reading or eating.

Try prescribed antidepressant medicines

If your health care provider recommends, you will be prescribed some antidepressant medicines alone or with light therapy to cope with seasonal depression.

Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is a type of talk therapy which uses links between thoughts, behavior, and feelings associated with mild to moderate depressive treatments. It can be essential in many conditions such as eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Take vitamin for seasonal depression

Since lack of sunlight results in Vitamin D deficiency, taking the supplement of this vitamin for seasonal depression treatment, is essential for normal body functioning.

Try getting natural sunlight, even if it is less in amount

Doctors recommend to get outside early in the morning to get more natural light. This along with prescribed vitamin for seasonal depression can help getting rid of mood changes and make you feel energetic.

Focus on meditation and mindfulness techniques

As a seasonal depression treatment, you can try certain meditation and mind power techniques. In these, you will learn how to manage depression and anxiety. These are one of the treatments you can start on your own.

Indulge in recreational activities

It is always a good idea to engage yourself in recreational activities to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can go for early morning walk, running, cycling, or even just sitting by a beautiful serene place and watching the nature.

Pamper and love yourself

Taking care of yourself should be your priority. Follow a proper healthy diet, sleep and exercise pattern even if the day length is shorter. You should always take time to relax yourself. Avoid caffeine and nicotine since they are known to worsen the anxiety.

Encourage yourself to spend quality time with family and friends

Positive friendships and interactions with others can boost your self-confidence. Invite your family or close friends at home or hang out with them outside. A good company can help you focus on the better part of their life and remove all your negative thoughts.

How to Avoid Seasonal Depression?

Once you have been diagnosed with seasonal depression, you can make sure you can manage it better the next year at the same time. Before the seasonal change, try taking the following preventive measures.

  • Spend time outside, even if it is less sunny. This will let you be in tune with your daily clock as daylight will make you feel better.
  • Use light for seasonal depression before the beginning of fall.
  • Eat healthy food even though you crave for carbohydrates or sugary foods. Take vitamin D to combat seasonal depression.
  • Meet your friends and family often.
  • Explore meditation, mind power techniques and affirmations to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Exercise regularly – do aerobics, zumba, or simply dance your energy out.

Seasonal depression is a real issue which needs to be addressed for better mental health. If you think you or someone you know has symptoms of depression, lack of energy and eating problems at the same time of the year, then get yourself diagnosed, so that you know how to help seasonal depression. With the help of the treatments mentioned above, you can make sure you avoid the symptoms from occurring the next same season.

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