Seasonal Depression: Navigating SAD
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression, is a mood disorder that is linked to changes in the seasons. Typically, people notice depressive symptoms in the late fall or early winter and resolve by spring or summer. While not as common, some notice a negative change in mood in spring or summer.
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
Many people notice a change in mood when the weather gets cooler and we gravitate indoors more, are exposed to fewer daylight hours and spend less time with physical activity. These are generally mild symptoms in comparison to SAD. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) SAD is classified as a Major Depressive Disorder and thus symptoms are similar to depression:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep, usually sleeping too much
- Loss of energy, fatigue, despite increase in sleep
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and sadness
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Withdrawal from life (work, family, socially)
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are ways to navigate dark winter days and to come out the other side without experiencing negative changes in mood:
- Increase your time with light. A reduction in daylight through the winter months can trigger the onset of SAD and so increasing exposure to light, whether through light therapy, sitting closer to windows, or additional time outdoors can be beneficial. This additional time with light can balance the body’s circadian rhythm, it increases serotonin, and this increase in mood neurotransmitter positively impacts mood.
- Move your body. Exercise is well researched as an effective treatment for depression.
- Engage. Participating in activities may not activate the same joy as it normally does but its important to continue to engage; there is generally a positive benefit in doing so. This can include: hobbies, cooking, reading, or being part of a club.
- Stay connected. Reach out to friends and family. We are social creatures and benefit in many ways from being with others.
- The basics. Nourish your body with a balanced diet and maintain a regular sleep schedule. When it’s dark the body naturally makes more melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, and this can increase time spent sleeping or shift sleep cycles. Aim for 7-9 hrs of sleep a night.
- Medical advice. Seek out guidance from your doctor on whether antidepressants may be suitable for you or if there are other health related issues that may be involved
- Psychotherapy. As with other forms of depression, seeking out the support from a licensed mental health professional can help you navigate the path forward.
It can be a challenge to face seasonal depression but there are many ways to ease the symptoms. You are not alone. Reach out and connect with others, exercise, expose yourself to more light and seek guidance from mental health providers.
Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)