The temperature is getting colder. The leaves are falling from the trees. The holidays are growing ever so closer.
While some may find comfort in the joy of the upcoming winter months and the celebrations during the holiday season, others may find themselves struggling now more than ever.
Do you, or someone you know, experience the following symptoms during fall/winter?
Low energy levels
Other depressive symptoms
If so, you may be experiencing seasonal depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression, is “a
condition of regularly occurring depression in winter, with a remission the following spring or summer”.
1-3% of adults will experience seasonal depression at some point in their lifetime (Magnusson & Boivin, 2009). During times of the year with more sunlight throughout the day (like summer), certain proteins in the body help produce more serotonin, which helps regulate mood. Whereas, in the winter months, when there is less sunlight, there is a decrease in the production of serotonin, as well as an increase in melatonin—a hormone that causes sleepiness. The combination of these hormonal changes impacts the body’s circadian rhythm and makes it difficult for the body to adjust to the change in daily sunlight (Melrose, 2015).
Seasonal depression can look different in everyone. As with all depression, everybody’s symptoms will be different, as well as the way those symptoms are presented. While it is most common for people to experience it during fall or winter, it can also happen during the spring and summer. No matter what season, SAD can greatly affect an individual’s mental health.
Ways to help symptoms of seasonal depression
Spend some time outside! Natural sunlight has been shown to improve mood and regulate the circadian rhythm we mentioned before (Keller et al., 2005). It is important to spend as much time soaking in sunlight as we can, but definitely not enough that we freeze!
Soak in some natural light! If it's far too cold to be outside, you can always soak in some natural light by spending time sitting by windows that let sunlight in. Maybe curl up in a blanket next to a window with a nice book or video game to get some exposure to light!
Take some Vitamin D! People will Seasonal Affective Disorder often have low levels of vitamin D due to their lack of exposure to sunlight. Low Vitamin D levels are also shown to have associations with depression. Taking Vitamin D may help prevent depressive symptoms (Melrose, 2015).
Seek help! If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of SAD, a counselor may be able to provide support during these difficult months of the year.
These are only a few ways that you can aid the symptoms of seasonal depression. Just as everybody’s symptoms will be different, so is the effectiveness of certain treatments.
With the colder months ahead, it is important to look for the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in both ourselves and those around us and take steps to relieve the symptoms that come along with it.
Austin Moore is a new therapist at Mindsight. He is a proud dad to 3 garden snails (see below!) and a betta fish and will most likely show you pictures of them in response to dog/cat photos. If he’s not at work, he’s probably playing vintage video games, fantasy booking next week’s professional wrestling show, singing along out of tune at his favorite band’s show, or writing his next song.
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Keller, M. C., Fredrickson, B. L., Ybarra, O., Côté, S., Johnson, K., Mikels, J., Conway, A., &Wager, T. (2005). A Warm Heart and a Clear Head. Psychological Science, 16(9), 724–731. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01602.x
Magnusson, A., & Boivin, D. (2003). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview. Chronobiology International, 20(2), 189–207. https://doi.org/10.1081/cbi-120019310
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment, 2015, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564