Seasonal depression is real. It’s important to understand what the problem is and how to handle it.
As the days become shorter and the weather becomes colder, it’s easy to get into the habit of staying indoors, eating more, and being less active — starting the “hibernation process” for the winter.
Although this is common, it’s important to be aware that you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. HealthFirst Delaware is here to tell you what may trigger SAD and share suggestions for what you can do to deal with seasonal depression.
What is SAD?
The National Insitute of Mental Health defines SAD as a type of depression that’s related to the changes of seasons — beginning and ending about the same time every year.
Signs and symptoms of SAD
In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Symptoms may start mildly and become more severe as the season progresses.
General signs of SAD are often associated with major depression, including loss of interest in regular activities, low energy, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite. Specifically, with winter depression, people suffer from:
- Low energy
- Hypersomnia, a condition in which you have trouble staying awake during the day
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
- Social withdrawal
Winter’s arrival is anything but wonderful for those who suffer from seasonal depression.
What causes SAD in the winter?
While the causes of SAD are unknown, some scientists believe it can be caused by the reduced exposure to sunlight. The lack of sunlight also can affect your sleep cycle. You have an internal body clock that tells you when to be awake and asleep. Less sunlight in the winter is thought to disrupt your circadian rhythm, causing depressive symptoms.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), winter depression “has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter.” With less natural sunlight, your serotonin levels drop. Chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, affect your mood and can cause you to feel depressed.
The sleep-related hormone melatonin could also be implicated because it is produced at night and because longer hours of darkness can lead to greater production of melatonin.
3 tips to beat those winter blues
- Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open the blinds in your office or home to allow more natural light into the room. Also, when you are reading, doing work, or relaxing, sit in well-lit spaces to take in natural light.
- Make an effort to go outside. Bundle up and take a walk. Or, for your lunch break, eat in a nearby park or grab coffee and sit on a bench so you can soak up the natural light.
- Make the effort to exercise regularly. Exercise and physical activity relieve stress and anxiety. Being more active makes you feel better about yourself and lifts your mood.
If these home remedies don’t help your seasonal depression, talk to your doctor or another medical professional to discuss options.