Not Just the Winter Blues: Tackling Seasonal Depression
Do you tend to feel down in the winter? Cooler temperatures, fewer daylight hours, and overall bleak weather can take a big toll on your mental health. You’re not alone if this happens to you. Seasonal depression is a real and taxing mental health concern. Let’s break down this condition and go over some ways to manage it.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Feeling down this time of year is sometimes colloquially called “winter blues.” Still, if mood changes are intense and impacting your life, you may have seasonal affective disorder—a real mental health concern and form of depression. This condition is also referred to as winter depression, seasonal depression, or winter-pattern SAD.
You might struggle with seasonal depression if you notice your mood dipping with the onset of late fall or early winter. Then, you start to feel better as winter goes away and the season turns into spring. Seasonal affective disorder tends to recur with season changes, creating symptoms for up to five months in a year. It happens when winter days are shorter, and you receive less exposure to natural light. This concern features symptoms of major depression, with some additional ones that vary depending on whether your seasonal depression occurs during the winter or summer.
Winter Depression Symptoms
- Eating too much
- Sleeping too much
- Staying away from other people
- Gaining weight
Major Depression Symptoms
- Having depressed feelings most of the time
- Experiencing reduced energy and sluggishness
- Lacking interest in things you previously participated in
- Having feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Having trouble with concentration
- Feeling agitated
- Thinking about suicide or death
Both normal major depression and winter-pattern SAD are marked by changes to sleep, appetite, or weight. Nonetheless, you don’t have to have all the symptoms associated with major depression or SAD to have either form of depression.
A mental health professional may diagnose you with this if you experience some of the symptoms happening during a specific season, winter in this case. Also, there needs to be a pattern of symptoms for at least two years in a row for a diagnosis. Nonetheless, you could have SAD without experiencing it every single year.
In addition, receiving a diagnosis of SAD means you likely have more frequent depressive episodes than other depressive episodes you may have had throughout your life. In other words, you experience this problem consistently with the season, whereas you may have experienced a regular depressive episode sporadically regardless of the season.
How To Manage Winter-Pattern SAD
You don’t have to simply suffer through the winter every year, waiting for spring. You can take steps to help manage the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, including specific winter-pattern SAD.
One way to treat this concern is with light therapy, which has been used to manage SAD starting in the 1980s. The goal is to expose yourself to an artificial light each day to help replace some of the natural light you’re missing during these seasons. There are different types of light devices you can use, one of which is red light therapy. A red light therapy device can stimulate your brain to follow a more natural circadian rhythm, helping with mood and better sleep.
Other Main Forms of Treatment for SAD
- Vitamin D
- Talk therapy
A health provider may recommend specific treatment to help with your symptoms. A combination of treatments may be recommended to manage this problem. For example, light therapy can complement other forms of treatment.
Wellness Practices for SAD
Also, you may benefit from focusing on your wellness and taking steps to improve it each day. Wellness is important because it includes all aspects of health, including physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual components. Following wellness practices may help with your mood and mental health, and other aspects of your health.
If you think you may have SAD, or you’ve been diagnosed with it, see if wellness practices may help.
Wellness Tips to Try
- Practice mindfulness, which focuses on paying attention to the here and now without judging it
- Take time for deep breathing
- Follow a healthy, balanced diet
- Find healthy stress management techniques that work for you
- Follow a consistent bedtime and sleep routine
Red light therapy can be part of your wellness activities, as red and near-infrared light provide wavelengths that stimulate cell mitochondria. This, in turn, leads to better cellular health, which can be seen in health and wellness benefits throughout the body and mind. Red light therapy is associated with benefits like improving sleep cycle disturbances and boosting mood that may help with depression, including seasonal depression.