What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, officially known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a kind of depression that happens when the seasons change. Usually, this happens during fall or winter and tends to be the same time of year consistently for each patient.
Seasonal depression can make it difficult to complete work, take exams, or feel like you are living your life with energy and purpose.
It is important to note that a lot of the symptoms for seasonal depression are similar to the symptoms of depression in general, with a distinctive difference: the depressive episode appears and disappears around the same time each year. Major depression’s symptoms will not appear and disappear according to a seasonal schedule or seasonal factors, though it may be amplified due to certain seasonal factors at times.
The symptoms for seasonal depression can include:
- Feeling sad, despairing for a period of more than two weeks
- Impedes your ability to function properly at work, school or in relationships
- Losing/gaining weight
- Insomnia/irregular sleep
- Low self esteem
- Feeling slowed down
- Feeling agitated
- Memory problems
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Crying without concrete reason (or feeling like you want to but can’t)
- Excessive guilt
- Loss of interest in work, hobbies
- Loss of libido
- Hallucinations or strange ideas (delusions)
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, it is important to find help right away. Either go to the hospital or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273- TALK(8255).
You may find that you experience a handful of these symptoms on occasion: this is normal! We all feel sad, uncertain and exhausted at times. What makes these symptoms a sign of seasonal depression is when it is ongoing for two or more weeks and seems to appear the same time of year or with the changing of the seasons.
Who Can Get Seasonal Depression?
Anyone can get seasonal depression, regardless of gender, race or social class, however some factors may increase your risk of seasonal depression.
Risk factors include:
- Being female/AFAB. Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with seasonal depression, though it is unclear if this is due to biological factors, social factors or both.
- Seasonal depression is more common amongst people who live either far north or far south of the equator, where the seasonal changes are most drastic.
- The younger you are, the more at risk you are for seasonal depression. Thankfully, the risk decreases with age.
- A family history of seasonal depression may increase your chances of experiencing seasonal depression yourself.
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
There is still some mystery surrounding depression in general as well as seasonal depression. Some prevailing theories believe that seasonal depression is triggered by the changes in daylight that occur with the changing of the seasons, particularly in the fall and winter when daylight hours are significantly reduced.
The thought is that the amount of daylight affects your biological clock, your circadian rhythm, and therefore disrupts your sleeping and waking patterns. It is also possible that the change in light affects your neurotransmitter functions.
Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are chemical signals that send messages from a nerve cell to a target cell to accomplish specific functions. For example, serotonin regulates functions like sleep, learning, appetite, and mood and may play a part in depression. This is of course a simplification for the purposes of this article, just know that certain neurological functions can be deeply affected by either too much or too little of specific neurotransmitters.
While we may not fully understand what causes seasonal depression (yet!), there are many treatments available with the help of a therapist, self care and perhaps even medication.
How Your Therapist Can Help
A therapist can help you find ways to cope with your seasonal depression by giving you techniques and tricks to break negative thought patterns, identify issues and learn to cope with your symptoms. Many find that talk therapy can help them eliminate symptoms altogether.
Booking an appointment with a therapist is a great way to start your journey to feeling better. You don’t need to suffer alone or feel like your problem is unimportant, there is always something that can be done and your therapist can help you create an action plan.
If your symptoms are debilitating and severe, a psychiatrist can determine if medication is a good way to treat your seasonal depression.
What You Can Do
In addition to talking with a therapist, there are some things you can do that may help ease your symptoms.
- Light therapy. There are many lamps on the market that are created to help people with seasonal depression get more light exposure. It mimics daylight, and typically you use the light for 30 minutes to a couple hours during the day. Many people find this relieves their symptoms or improves their quality of life.
- Exercise can be a great way to increase circulation, get a boost of energy and get more light exposure if you choose to exercise outdoors.
- Meditation. Simple mind meditations can help you identify your feelings and better cope with the ebb and flow of emotions that can feel debilitating at times. Learning to acknowledge feelings without feeling victim to them can help with depression and anxiety.
- Try to cover the basics and celebrate small victories. Do whatever you can to ensure you have meals, maintain hygiene, and get to bed at a decent time. Covering your basic needs is a huge accomplishment when you are suffering from seasonal depression. So, be kind to yourself and celebrate small victories. Honestly, a therapist can help you create an action plan if needed.
It is also important (and easier said than done) to try and maintain some sort of social connection. This can be done by a simple phone call, texting, or a video chat if you can’t or don’t feel like leaving home.
Seasonal depression is nothing to be ashamed of, especially if you are in one of the high risk groups mentioned above. Book an appointment with a therapist to increase your quality of life during the cold, dreary months.
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