Updated: Jan 6, 2021
Ahhhhhh the fall. The time of year where trade in our sandals for boots, pull out the fur jackets we got on sale last summer and marinate in pumpkin-spice. I'll pass. While, many of us look forward to sweater weather, festivals and albeit cuffing season- for many people, the fall also marks the onset of depression.
Do you notice changes in yourself around this time of the year? Does your mood change with the seasons or depression seem to worsen in the fall and winter months? Then you, like many people may be experiencing either the winter blues or Depressive disorder with seasonal patterns also known as seasonal depression or more commonly Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
Today we will be answering some of the common questions about Seasonal Depression
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Depression is characterized by the onset or worsening of depressive symptoms that occur around the fall/winter months or spring/summer months.
What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
The symptoms of SAD are not unlike the typical symptoms of depression however there are some distinctions in how these symptoms may show up around this time of year. Symptoms, which typically start around early fall to early winter, include:
Feeling sluggish or leaden paralysis
Fatigue, lethargy, apathy
Increased appetite with an increased craving for carbohydrates
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
Hypersensitivity to the rejection or other interpersonal difficulties
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
Studies suggest that seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder may be caused by one or any combination of the following:
A dysregulated or irregular Circadian Rhythm- think of the Circadian Rhythm as your body’s internal clock or alarm system that helps regulate your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Because of the reduced amounts of sunlight in the fall/winter months, it is theorized that individuals with seasonal patterns of depression may be heavily affected by this change. Sunlight also helps with the creation of vitamin D and is heavily involved in the process of producing the “feel good” hormones in our brains. With reduced amounts of sunlight, one’s brain could have a harder time producing these hormones and push one into depression.
While this is a promising theory, it doesn't quite explain what is happening in individuals who experience seasonal depression in the spring and summer months.
Family history. People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
Having major depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
How is Seasonal Depression Diagnosed?
One of the main hallmarks of seasonal depression are:
The presence or worsening of depressive symptoms around the same time each year
Symptoms occurring each year for at least 2 years in a row
Symptoms disappear/diminish with the new season
If any of this resonates with you, start by having a conversation with your doctor or you could always schedule a consultation to see a therapist.
How is Seasonal Depression Treated?
While this will heavily depend on your symptoms and concerns, here are some things that have worked for others:
Light Therapy. Light therapy is the process of deliberately increasing your light exposure. It is recommended to walk for a couple hours on a cloudy day or 30 minutes on a sunny day.
An alternative to this is to utilize a light box. A light box is a really really bright light! The recommended level is 10,000 LUX to be used 30-90 minutes in the morning, shortly after waking and around the same time every day.
Psychotherapy – cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful in helping you identify the relationship between your thoughts, emotions and behavior and learn what you can do to actively work on it.
Medication- many have found relief in taking certain medications to increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels.
Increasing Vitamin D intake
Dawn Simulator- A dawn simulator is an alarm clock that gets progressively brighter 30-60 minutes before the alarm goes off.
Aerobic exercise- Get up and move around. Exercise is a great help prevent the onset of symptoms or maintain wellness once your symptoms have improved.
Practicing good sleep hygiene – doing things like turning off your electronics one hour before bed, eliminating long naps and keeping good sleep schedule can be helpful in treating your symptoms.
For many of us, 2020 has been the year that put our mental health at the forefront of everything else in our lives. Many of us are still grappling with pandemic depression, racial trauma and now seasonal depression. May this information assist you in some way, small or great, in your self-healing. If you’d like to hear me talk more about seasonal depression, check out the first episode of Season 2 of the No Tea, Just Juice Podcast here.
And as always, until the next time- Peace, Love and Juice!
Be well, family