As the seasons change it’s quite common that some people will start to see a change in their mood as well. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of depression triggered by the change of the seasons. Typically, symptoms of SAD will begin in the fall and worsen throughout the winter months.
Most people will begin to feel less positive and may even notice they have less energy throughout the day. For some, symptoms can be temporary, while others may find that their emotional well-being is affected on a daily basis. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to help you cope during this challenging time.
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
Experiencing seasonal depression is different for everyone. Some people may develop mild symptoms of SAD, which is commonly referred to as the winter blues. Those with mild symptoms may feel down on days where the weather is colder than usual. However, their day-to-day life may not be affected.
One in three people constantly struggle with SAD during the autumn and winter months. Common symptoms of seasonal depression or SAD include:
- Low mood
- Increase in appetite
- Sleeping longer than usual
- Feeling worthless
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Limbs feeling heavy
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, please call 911 immediately. In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours in English and Spanish. That number is 800-273-8255.
What Causes Seasonal Depression
Researchers aren’t quite sure what actually causes seasonal depression. There are a couple of theories as to why individuals may feel down during the winter. Many people believe the lack of sunlight may trigger symptoms of depression. Other theories suggest that:
Vitamin D Deficiency
Serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Vitamin D serves as a precursor to serotonin and we may experience a boost in our mood when our body produces Vitamin D. Since the sunlight helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, less sunlight in the winter can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency. As a result, this can affect your overall mood.
Change in Circadian Rhythm
Along with lower levels of Vitamin D, lack of sunlight can cause a change in your biological clock or circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm helps regulate your mood and sleep patterns. When experiencing a shift in sleep patterns, many people may have trouble regulating their moods.
As we mentioned in the previous section, serotonin contributes to your overall mood and feelings of happiness. If someone already has low serotonin levels, combining this with a lack of sunlight and Vitamin D brings on symptoms of depression.
Who is at Risk of Seasonal Depression
If you are someone who is experiencing signs and symptoms of seasonal depression, we do not recommend trying to diagnose yourself. Instead, reach out to a mental health professional for a thorough evaluation. It’s possible that your change in mood may not be related to the seasonal changes. In most cases, seasonal depression or SAD can be a sign of a more complex mental health issue.
SAD is more common in young adults and women. Other individuals who may be at risk could include:
- Have another mood disorder, such as major depressive disorder.
- Have relatives with other mental health conditions.
- Live in colder regions.
What You Can Do to Manage Symptoms
There are several things you can do to manage symptoms of seasonal depression. One of the best ways to manage your symptoms is to reach out to a professional and receive a proper evaluation. For those who are experiencing mild symptoms of SAD or seasonal depression, there are some small lifestyle changes you can make to boost your mood.
Staying active is one of the best ways to boost your mood during the winter months. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. Incorporating 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine can keep your body energized and even add a bit of fun to your day. Here are a couple of indoor activities you can try to stay active this winter:
- Indoor Intramural sports like basketball and volleyball
- Dance Classes
- Spin Classes
Get More Sunlight
Sunlight is limited in the winter. We encourage you to go outside as much as you can when the sun is out. A good way to get some extra sunlight is by taking a walk around the neighborhood when you have free time. If it’s too chilly outside for you to go outdoors, try opening up your blinds to catch some of the sun rays before nighttime.
Talk to a Professional
It’s always a great idea to talk to a professional whenever you are experiencing feelings of sadness. If your symptoms of SAD are becoming too much for you to handle on your own, reaching out to someone who understands what you’re going through can help.
At Bayless, our mental health professionals are committed to providing a safe environment for all individuals to process their emotions. New patients can call Bayless Integrated Healthcare at 602-777-6337 for a free, 15-minute wellness consultation. You can also click here to make an appointment online. Remember, if you are experiencing a crisis, please call 911 immediately.