We’ve all been there: the warm sunshine slowly begins to fade, and what was once sandy beaches begin to ice over, and the sun begins to set on your drive home from work. Many of us are prone to feeling a slight decrease in mood as the colder months approach.
However, if you begin to feel extreme lows of depression, loss of motivation, lack of interest in things that once made you happy, difficulty sleeping, or changes in appetite – you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
So, how do you beat seasonal depression? Is there a cure for seasonal depression?
Read on to discover how you can manage your wellbeing, even in the most frigid of months.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression, affects around 5% of the United States population. While it largely depends on the climate in which you live, for those 5% it lasts roughly for 40% of the year. That’s nearly half!
Seasonal depression is related to specific changes that occur at the same time every year, and includes symptoms such as:
- Social Withdrawl
- Mood swings
- Loss of motivation
- Extreme loss or weight gain
While seasonal depression’s symptoms can range from mild to severe, the disorder is debilitating nonetheless.
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is caused by a hormonal imbalance in climates where sun exposure is limited for long periods of a time.
Sunlight helps maintain neurotransmitter levels of serotonin, so when this supply is drastically reduced, it can throw off a multitude of systems in the body, causing extreme levels of depression.
In addition, for those in particularly cold environments, the lack of outdoor, social activities can cause people to isolate, and further any pre-existing mental illnesses.
How Is Seasonal Depression Managed?
For those living with seasonal depression, it can be incredibly frustrating to live with year after year. This has caused some people to seek treatments to manage their symptoms throughout the winter months.
A few ways in which seasonal depression is managed are:
Light therapy is specially curated to mimic outdoor sunlight and is widely used by many people that suffer from seasonal depression.
Since the 1980’s light therapy has used ‘light boxes’ to compensate for the lack of sunlight that is lost during the winter months.
For this kind of treatment to work, a patient is directed to sit in front of a lightbox for 30-45 minutes a day. It’s recommended to partake first thing in the morning, as using a lightbox at night can have adverse effects.
Lightboxes are 20x brighter than indoor lights, and filter out any harmful UV rays, making them perfectly safe for anyone to use.
Light therapy has been proven to boost alertness, mood, energy, and focus. In addition, light therapy helps those suffering from insomnia due to seasonal depression, by rebalancing the circadian rhythm, and enhancing the production of melatonin.
Psychotherapy, or, talk therapy, is a common method used to treat patients with seasonal depression.
Through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, a patient is guided and empowered to address their negative thoughts and thinking patterns and redirect them in healthier, more positive ways.
A patient suffering from seasonal affective disorder may view winter extremely negatively, so utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy can be extremely effective in coping with depression during the winter months.
Behavioral action is another form of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed to help patients experiencing seasonal depression by helping them schedule, and participate in enjoyable winter activities. Through engaging in both indoor and outdoor activities, clients actively fight against their usual loss of interest in wintertime activites.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common, highly recommended anti-depressant for patients suffering from seasonal depression.
During the winter months, serotonin levels can become unbalanced and depleted. With selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as citalopram, or fluoxetine, areas of the brain that normally reabsorb these mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, are blocked, enabling an excess of serotonin to stick around.
Many doctors that prescribe anti-depressants specifically for seasonal depression, will begin a patient on them 4-6 weeks prior to symptom onset, as a way to ensure they’re working well before the seasons change.
Treatment for seasonal depression doesn’t have to be within the walls of a doctor’s office, or the arms of a therapy chair.
There are ways to beat seasonal depression right from home:
- Create a sunnier environment: Even though the temperatures may drop, the sun is often still shining. Trim any branches around your windows, purchase transparent curtains, and adjust your home office to sit near a window. Just that bit of sunshine can do wonders.
- Get outside: For those living in Alaska, where there are weeks of darkness, this may not be for you. But for those in states like Minnesota, where it’s often still possible to get outside, try (bundling up), and going for a walk to get fresh air once a day. Just getting out into nature naturally boosts serotonin levels.
- Exercise: If taking walks in the cold isn’t your style, try exercising indoors instead. Going to the gym every day, even if it’s not for long, can significantly impact your levels of anxiety and depression. Not only can it boost your mood, but exercise also helps regulate sleeping patterns as well.
Kick Seasonal Depression To The Curb:
While you may never be someone that thoroughly enjoys winter, there are ways to manage it so it doesn’t infiltrate your life for 5 months out of the year.
Research has shown light therapy to be the most effective form of treatment for seasonal depression, however, a combination of light and talk therapy has given patients the quickest results.
More often than not, seasonal depression is a total mindset shift. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can assist in redirecting negative thoughts, and guiding you in rethinking the way you view winter.
Stay safe, stay warm, and stay happy.