Shedding Light on Seasonal Depression: Strategies for Managing the Winter Blues
As the the evenings darken earlier each day, it’s a reminder that the colder months are swiftly approaching. When fall and winter make their presence known, they tend to cast a slight shadow of gloom upon us.
But for some, it’s more than just missing the sun—it can feel like a deep cave of despair where even the most minor tasks feel impossible. If wintertime brings a dark cloud over your mood that won’t let up, you might be dealing with seasonal depression.
The cold weather’s impact on mental health is a real issue for many people, and if you struggle with seasonal depression, it’s not your fault. We’ll discuss how to manage your symptoms and when to reach out for help.
According to Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that’s related to seasons changing. You may hear people refer to SAD as “seasonal depression” or “the winter blues.”
Most people think of wintertime as the most common time of year for SAD symptoms to arise, but they can start to appear in the fall or as soon as those hot, sunny days start to become fewer.
Why does it happen?
Even though there isn’t a specific pinpointed cause for SAD, experts have a pretty good idea of what’s likely causing it.
The primary cause of this shift is the decrease in sunlight hours, messing with your body’s internal clock. Also, the drop in serotonin levels because of less sun messes with those happy chemicals in your brain.
As the seasons shift, there can be a shake-up in your body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin plays a significant role in regulating your sleep routine and mood.
People with a family history of SAD or depression are more likely to be affected by seasonal change, and the condition is more common among people who live further away from the equator. Individuals with low levels of vitamin D might be more prone to dealing with SAD, too. We get vitamin D from sunlight, food, or other sources.
People who have bipolar disorder tend to feel the effects of SAD more. When summer swings around, they might notice signs of mania kicking in, while winter tends to bring on those feelings of depression.
As soon as you start spending more time indoors, suddenly, you may feel your motivation hit the road, leaving you stuck in a foggy, low-energy state.
Mayo Clinic lists the following as signs and symptoms of SAD:
- Feeling listless, sad, or down most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy and feeling sluggish
- Having problems with sleeping too much
- Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating, and weight gain
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having thoughts of not wanting to live
Symptoms may start mild and worsen as the winter season progresses. However, less common, some people experience the opposite. Summer depression or summer-onset seasonal affective disorder is when folks have symptoms during spring and summer that become milder as the cold weather comes.
For winter months, SAD symptoms may show up as weight gain, changes in eating, sleeping more than usual, and feeling low energy or constantly tired. If you struggle with SAD, your symptoms may resolve during warmer months.
If you experience seasonal depression symptoms during the spring and summer months, you may have trouble sleeping, experience weight loss or a poor appetite, or be more irritable and anxious.
If you struggle with SAD symptoms, reach out to your primary physician immediately. SAD can worsen and lead to more severe problems if left untreated.
Moving to Florida isn’t going to work for everyone, but managing your SAD symptoms is possible. Take the necessary steps to manage your winter depression by making some minor lifestyle adjustments.
Since the shortage of sunlight is a significant factor in SAD, it makes sense to get more light in your life, doesn’t it?
“Light boxes are designed to deliver a therapeutic dose of bright light to treat symptoms of SAD,” advises Mayo Clinic.
Light therapy triggers changes in your brain chemicals, lifting your mood and boosting your energy.
Use a light box to mimic the sunlight you lack during winter months. But be sure to do your homework. Not every lightbox sold today is made specifically to treat symptoms of SAD. When in doubt, get a recommendation from your doctor.
Staying active and exercising
Although winter can make us want to hibernate, getting your body moving can be a game-changer to ease your seasonal depression symptoms.
Exercise isn’t just about being fit. It’s great for your mental health, too. During exercise, your body releases endorphins that work like natural mood boosters.
You don’t need to start ice skating or running marathons in the snow. There are so many other ways to exercise during the colder months, like walking around your neighborhood. Try doing yoga, an online workout video, or have a dance party when you’re stuck indoors. Your mood will thank you for it!
Maintaining a healthy diet
Giving your body the right food can positively impact your winter blues. Certain foods can lift your spirits and brighten even the gloomiest days, making a real difference in your feelings.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fantastic for lifting your mood. Find them in foods like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Fruits and veggies are packed with essential vitamins and antioxidants that work wonders for your mood, so take advantage of them! Go for the vibrant colored ones, lots of greens, oranges, and yellows. They’re like a mood-boosting rainbow for your plate.
Positive social connections
Socializing isn’t just fun; it’s good for you! When the winter blues kick in, connect with your friends and family. We tend to stay indoors during the colder months, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with your social life. You might just need to get creative.
If meeting up in person isn’t doable, hop on video calls, organize a virtual movie night, or shoot a quick text to catch up with a friend. Even these little social moments can boost your mood.
Remember, it’s okay to rely on your support people. That’s why we have them. And, plus, chatting with you probably brightens their day, too.
Knowing when to reach out for professional mental health support is crucial when dealing with challenges like seasonal depression. If you notice your significant mood shifts impacting your daily life, work, and relationships, it might be time to chat with someone.
Therapy can be super helpful to work through your symptoms. Your therapist is an expert who supports you, helps you navigate life’s challenges, and gives you coping strategies. They may also suggest additional options like light therapy or medication.
There is no shame in seeking help for SAD. It’s wise to take charge of your mental health and get the support you need to feel better.
If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a healthcare professional and take the first step to feeling more like yourself again. You deserve it.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: Call 1-800-950-6264 for a free peer-support service to provide local referrals and develop next steps. Available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (English) or 1-888-628-9454 (en español) for free, confidential support available 24/7 for individuals under stress and for their loved ones
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Call 1-800-662-4357 for free, confidential information and referral service offered 24/7 for individuals with mental health or substance abuse disorders and their loved ones
- 7 Cups is an anonymous, free platform available 24/7 to speak with trained volunteers for emotional support
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Seasonal Affective Disorder
- “Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder” by Norman E. Rosenthal
Seasonal depression is a serious concern for many people, but you don’t have to get through it alone. Understanding what’s happening is half the battle, and there are ways to navigate it.
Whether it’s getting more sunlight, eating better, or making more plans with friends, you can manage your SAD symptoms. Make sure you’re checking in with yourself, too, and if it all feels like too much, reach out to a professional.
At Recovery Unplugged, we use evidence-based practices at every level to improve your mental health. Therapy, counseling, medication, and other interventions are available to help manage your seasonal affective disorder symptoms.
Call us today to chat with one of our professional admissions staff members. We offer complete insurance verification to find which option is best for you. Our staff is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call us at (855) 954-1194 to get started.
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