When Seasons Bring Sadness: Navigating the Depths of Seasonal Depression

A black and white photo of a person looking out a window.
Understanding Seasonal Depression

As the end of summer approaches and the days grow shorter, many individuals find themselves grappling with a phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal depression. This seasonal shift can have a significant impact on our mental well-being, as the reduced sunlight and colder weather can trigger feelings of lethargy, sadness, and a lack of motivation. However, there are proactive steps that can be taken to prepare for the onset of seasonal depression and safeguard our mental health as we transition into the winter months. By understanding the signs of SAD and implementing strategies to mitigate its effects, we can navigate the changing seasons with greater resilience and emotional well-being.

The exact cause of seasonal depression is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to changes in light exposure, which can disrupt the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and affect the production of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. Reduced sunlight exposure during the winter months may contribute to these changes. Statistics regarding the prevalence of seasonal depression vary depending on the population and the specific region, but it is generally estimated to affect around 1% to 10% of the population. The prevalence tends to be higher in regions farther from the equator, where there are more pronounced differences in daylight hours between seasons.

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences mood changes during certain seasons has seasonal depression. Many people might experience milder changes in mood or energy levels without meeting the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of SAD.

How to Identify the Signs

To identify whether you, or someone you know, is suffering from seasonal depression, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is there a sudden decrease in mood and level of interest?
  • Are these negative changes prevalent throughout one season?
  • Is there any abrupt change in appetite, weight, and sleeping pattern?
  • Do you or the person feel lethargic without reason?
  • Are you or the person finding it hard to concentrate on daily activities?
  • Are you or the person experiencing physical symptoms, including body aches and digestive problems?
How to Prepare and Protect Yourself Against Winter Blues?

Seasonal depression symptoms can worsen over time if left untreated. Taking proactive steps can prevent symptoms from escalating and becoming more challenging to manage. If you suffer from the “winter blues”, you must start taking steps to manage the symptoms before the weather gets colder. If you are someone who has never experienced it before, as soon as you start feeling a shift in your mood you should start prioritizing your emotional well-being. Here are a few action items that can help offset the effects of seasonal depression:

  • Create a Planner for the Winter Season. Add small rewards for yourself for completing each task. Rewarding yourself will elevate your mood by activating the release of dopamine. You may even use apps like ‘Productive,’ ‘google Task’ (Pugle, 2023).
  • Add Glimmers to Your Life: Fill your space with things that you love, whether it is a specific scent, color, or something that carries sentimental value. If you are somewhere outside and you feel disconnected, try to ground yourself in moments or thoughts that bring you joy. These glimmers will stimulate your nervous system to feel a sense of safety and connectivity. (Danna, 2018).
  • Spend time Outdoors: Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours, even if only for 20 to 30 minutes per day. Exposure to natural sunlight can improve mood significantly. (Lyness, 2020).Natural light exposure, even on cloudy days, benefits those with SAD. It helps regulate circadian rhythms, supports melatonin balance, aids vitamin D production, and boosts serotonin. 
  • Identify The Triggers. Although seasonal depression has a temporal connection to the season. You must identify the elements that heighten the symptoms: rain, snow, excessive cold, darkness, or even holidays. Once you recognize it, you can take precautions to elevate your mood. 
  • Practice Sleep Hygiene. Sleep problems, including the inability to fall asleep and wake up and disturbed sleep, are common symptoms of seasonal depression. To facilitate deep sleep, you must ensure you don’t eat at least three hours before falling asleep, try to exercise so that your body demands rest, and try practicing guided imagery to overcome any stressful thoughts from making you feel fearful and anxious. Avoid working or eating on your bed so your mind doesn’t associate anything besides sleep with bedtime. Keep the room dark. Avoid screen time before sleeping. Lastly, you may listen to calming music. You can download apps like Aura and Calm or watch ASMR videos on YouTube to relax your nervous system. (Pugle, 2023).
  • Practice Self-Care. Depression can lead to self-neglect. Although it may require effort, self-care can make you feel better about yourself. You can add small self care items to your routine. Remember to take it one step at a time and give yourself grace if you are not feeling up to the tasks. Once you take little steps, reward yourself and try to do more than you did before.
  • Healthy Diet. Certain foods can help improve mood and alleviate winter blues by providing essential nutrients supporting brain health and producing feel-good neurotransmitters. For example, fatty fish and nuts contain omega-3 fatty acid that stimulates the brain. Green vegetables and bananas are vital for serotonin production. Winter fruits, including berries and oranges, can combat oxidative stress. Dark chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins which is a vital mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter. (Migala, 2021). Subsequently, staying hydrated is crucial to combat winter dryness and fatigue. 
  • Make Plans with People Who Are Good for Your Mental Health. The winter season is filled with many holidays, so you may feel forced to meet people. However, social isolation can aggravate your depressive symptoms. You can pre-plan a small gathering or even an outstation vacation with people you are closest to. This way, you would not have to stress yourself by organizing an event when winter progresses, and you will have something to look forward to. 
  • Practice Self Compassion. Acknowledge your seasonal reaction and be understanding towards your bodily response. It can be exhausting when your health negatively affects your life, and your performance deteriorates after six months of hard work, but it is worse when we are too hard on ourselves. Allow yourself to take breaks and to say ‘no.’ You don’t have to justify your mental health to anyone. 
  • Join Support Groups. Going through depression can make you feel helpless, misunderstood, and alone. You can educate yourself about your symptoms by reading about other people’s SAD stories; you can join virtual or physical support groups to interact with people experiencing similar reactions. 
  • Seek Professional Support. Like any other type of depression, seasonal depression is a condition that can require professional support. Consulting a professional allows you to address the specific factors that might trigger your seasonal depression and develop strategies to cope with the challenges of the changing season. As winter is approaching, seeking help from a mental health professional is crucial. They can assist you in effectively managing your symptoms and guide you before it escalates. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression, it’s advisable to seek professional help. Treatment options may include light therapy (exposure to bright artificial light to mimic natural sunlight), psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy), and in some cases, medication.

Serengeti Wellness comprises a team of therapists qualified to help you manage the effects seasonal depression may have on you and your wellness/ We understand that seasonal depression symptoms may be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Our specialized therapists are here to provide in-person and virtual therapy to help you live a life of ease, even throughout the colder months. To book your first session, all you need to do is Click Here. We will ensure that we can provide you with a wellness plan by prioritizing your mental health and customizing the best management plan for the symptoms you are experiencing. 

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