Winter woes: How to manage seasonal depression

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. Also known as seasonal depression, SAD is cyclic and begins and ends around the same time every year. For most people with SAD, the symptoms start around autumn and makes them feel moody and less energetic. The symptoms continue through the winter months and alleviate around spring time or summer. Many people brush this aside thinking it is just momentary and will pass on its own. It should not be “toughed out”. It is important to keep your mood stable through out the year, as being depressed can affect the quality of life. This article will help navigate the symptoms and manage seasonal depression.

What is the reason behind seasonal affective disorder?

It is normal for most people to feel a little down during the winter months. This is a milder version of SAD commonly known as “winter blues”. SAD goes beyond this. It’s a form of depression. Unlike the winter blues, SAD affects people’s daily life, including how they feel and think. Fortunately, treatment can help get through this challenging time. The main reason behind seasonal depression is that there is a dearth of sunlight. Not only are the days shorter during winter months, people also prefer staying indoors. Even when they do step out, it is generally with clothes that cover their entire body to protect them from the cold. However, while staying protected from the cold, they also get deprived from being exposed to sunlight. One might wonder what connection sunlight could have with depression. However, recent research has provided some strong evidence that Vitamin D and depression might be more closely linked than people had anticipated. Since sunlight is a major source of vitamin D for the human body, not getting enough exposure to sunlight can affect the mental well being of people more than they realise. Apart from that there are various other reasons for SAD:

  • Change in biological clock
  • Chemical imbalance in brain
  • Lack of serotonin due to vitamin D deficiency
  • Melatonin boost due to lack of sunlight
  • Negative thoughts and anxiety about winter

Can people get SAD during summer?

There is a rare form of seasonal depression called “summer depression”. The people affected by this generally start showing symptoms in the late spring or early summer and feel better by the time autumn comes around. It is far less common than the seasonal depression which comes with winter. About 10% of people with SAD have summer depression. Some studies have shown that in countries near the equator, such as India, summer SAD is more common than winter SAD.

Even though experts are not sure, the longer days, and increasing heat and humidity may play a role. Along with that, vacations during summer can disrupt the schedule that people have formed over time. Since summertime requires shedding layers of clothing do manage the rising temperatures, people might feel conscious about their bodies and avoid social situations. Summer heat can become truly oppressive for countries near the equator. This means that people avoid going out of their rooms or binge watch random things. Eating and sleeping habits might also be affected due to the heat and humidity. People might also start relying on unhealthy takeout because it’s just too stifling to cook. Any of these things can contribute to summer depression.

What are the symptoms of SAD or seasonal depression?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is officially classified as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder, might display mood changes and symptoms of depression. These include the following:

  • Sadness, feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
  • Anxiety.
  • Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain.
  • Extreme fatigue and lack of energy.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling irritated or agitated.
  • Limbs (arms and legs) that feel heavy.
  • Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, including withdrawing from social activities.
  • Sleeping problems (usually oversleeping).
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms of summertime SAD might include:

  • Agitation and restlessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • Episodes of violent behavior.
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia).

How to manage Seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression?

It is important to talk to a health care provided and get proper help for management of seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression.

There are some recommended treatments for seasonal disorder that a doctor might suggest. These include:

  • Light therapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can help treat SAD.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy. Research has shown it effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.
  • Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy.
  • Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also, increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.
  • Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.

Apart from these, there are several ways to manage and deal with the symptoms of seasonal depression:

  • Exercising regularly: Regular exercise, especially outside in natural daylight can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals.
  • Reaching out to family and friends: Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping manage SAD. Try participating in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Eating well: Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help you keep the energy up and minimize mood swings.
  • Taking steps to deal with stress: Too much stress can exacerbate or even trigger depression.Figuring out things that cause stress and trying to minimise their impact, practicing daily relaxation techniques, as well doing something enjoyable can all help reduce stress in life.

If someone feels like they have seasonal depression, or SAD, they should always try to consult a doctor. The doctor can carry out an array of tests and examinations to assess the underlying mental health issues, if any, and give suggestions accordingly. Going to a healthcare professional is the best way to manage seasonal depression.

NOTE: The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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