As the seasons change, the days become darker and shorter. During the fall and winter, about 5% of adults in the United States experience seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal depression is a form of depression in which symptoms last through the fall and winter months and resolve on their own when spring begins. While the cause of seasonal depression is not fully understood, it may be brought on by a reduction in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that helps with mood regulation, along with an increase in melatonin, which is a sleep hormone that the body makes when it is dark outside.
The symptoms of seasonal depression closely align with those of a major depressive disorder. Seasonal Depression is not to be confused with the “winter blues,” which often describes simply feeling sad that the days are shorter.
If you have experienced some of these symptoms this winter season or for the past few consecutive winters, reach out to your mental health provider. A qualified mental health provider will evaluate your symptoms and offer a proper diagnosis.
There are various treatment options for seasonal depression. Your mental health care provider will be able to prescribe you the best treatment for you.
Light therapy, or phototherapy, is known to be an effective treatment for seasonal depression. It involves sitting in from of a very bright light box within the first hour of waking up for 20 to 30 minutes. Light therapy may sound simple to do on your own, but it should be completed under the care of your provider as it can cause negative side effects for those who have bipolar disorder or eye health problems.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy where you meet with a therapist and talk through the feelings that you are experiencing. Through talking, your therapist will help you recognize your negative thought processes and help you take control of your thinking in order to calm your mind. They can also help you learn to cope with seasonal depression as you navigate through it and provide personalized solutions.
Sometimes, medications are needed to help you manage seasonal depression. Since seasonal depression is associated with a reduction in serotonin, antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are an effective treatment for seasonal depression. Antidepressants can be prescribed by your health professional.
In addition to the treatment options for seasonal depression, there are a few things that you can do at home on your own to help manage symptoms. These management tips offer the best results when combined with treatment under the care of a mental health provider, as they seldom work on their own for those diagnosed with seasonal depression.
Since light therapy is a proven treatment for seasonal depression, increasing the amount of light that you are exposed to in your home can help as well. You can open the curtains and let in as much natural light through the windows as possible. You can also turn on more lights in your home and change the lightbulbs to give brighter light if needed. You may even be able to make your environment bright by repainting a lighter color or adding lighter rugs and décor to your home.
It is a fact that exercise can help ease the symptoms of depression. Make sure to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, even if you do not feel like it. It is even better if you can get outside to exercise. Even if it is very cold out, bundle up and take a brisk walk. Your body and mind will thank you. If you are not able to get outside, you can jump rope inside, do yoga, complete a workout with an online instructor, or go to the gym.
Oversleeping is a symptom of seasonal depression, and it is most likely due to the increase in melatonin. To combat oversleeping, stick to a consistent sleeping pattern. Aim to get about 8 hours of sleep at night, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
If experiencing seasonal depression occurs every year for you, planning to take a winter vacation to a sunny location may help. While it will not treat seasonal depression, it may give you something to look forward to and some temporary relief from the symptoms that you are experiencing.
Often, when we don’t feel like caring for ourselves or when we feel a loss of interest in things we used to enjoy, it is a time when we need it the most. It may be hard to find the motivation but make a goal to do one thing for yourself every day during the winter season. Practice self-care, spend time meditating, painting, reading a book, cleaning your home, playing a game, or playing an instrument. Whatever you love to do, you should make the time to do it.
Seasonal depression can be difficult to navigate on your own, and it often requires the help of a mental health professional. If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms of seasonal depression, do not hesitate to seek help. You deserve to feel better.
Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.