Do you ever get depressed during the winter months? If so, you are not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or “the winter blues,” for four to six months out of the year. People with this condition experience their SAD symptoms similar to that of normal depression, which occur at a specific time every year, usually in the fall or winter months. Although some people may feel like they’re always sad during these seasons, the symptoms can be treated with light therapy and other treatment options.
Seasonal Depression Symptoms
SAD is a kind of depression that comes on in the winter. It’s sometimes called “winter blues,” because it can start in the fall and last into spring. This condition is characterized by a change in mood and behavior that occurs during the same time every year. Symptoms can last from four to six months, although they may start earlier or end later according to the individual. Common symptoms include:
- Depressed mood. This may be worsened by social withdrawal, irritability, or anger at others.
- Sluggishness of movement and lack of energy. This will often persist even after you have taken sufficient rest or sleep.
- An increase in appetite and/or cravings for carbohydrates, especially those containing sugar such as candy or ice cream, are common among those struggling with seasonal depression. This is due to carbohydrate deficiency during winter months when fresh produce is scarce due to cold weather conditions preventing them from growing properly indoors.
- Weight gain, which is coupled with the increase in appetite.
- Feeling sad or hopeless almost every day, even though you try not to be.
- Sleeping more than usual or having trouble sleeping at night. You may also have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep during the night.
How Does Light Therapy Help?
If you are experiencing seasonal depression, light therapy might be a good treatment option for you. Light therapy uses bright light to increase your body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, which can help with symptoms like feeling sad or tired. You can use special lamps that give off a certain amount of light visible to the human eye, or you can get a box that produces full-spectrum light.
Lightboxes are easy to set up, safe, and effective in helping people with SAD feel happier and more energetic. They may also help improve sleep quality by helping both daytime napping and nighttime sleeping while reducing anxiety during waking hours.
Can Antidepressants and Psychotherapy Work for SAD?
Depression can be treated with a combination of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Antidepressants may help relieve some symptoms of seasonal depression, such as sadness and fatigue. These medications should be taken under the supervision of a physician, who will monitor any side effects or interactions with other drugs that you are taking.
Psychotherapy is also an effective treatment for SAD because it allows you to explore the causes of your mood swings and learn ways to manage them more effectively. Therapy can help you understand what triggers your depressive episodes so that you know to seek professional help before they start.
Engaging in Physical Exercise
If you’re feeling down, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. Despite this, research shows that physical activity can help with seasonal depression by improving sleep, energy levels, and mood. If possible, try to schedule your workouts for first thing in the morning or at night. The best times are when sunlight exposure isn’t as critical for your body’s circadian rhythm. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times per week.
You may also want to consider adding strength training exercises to this plan if they’re safe and appropriate for you. Starting an exercise program is easier said than done. Try scheduling time each week with a friend or family member who also wants to get fit so that it’s less likely that either one of you will cancel on the other with excuses like “I don’t have time.”
The Importance of Staying Connected
When you’re feeling down, it helps to stay connected with friends, family, and your community. This can be especially true if you have a supportive network of people around you. Many mental health conditions are linked to social isolation.
Talking about how you’re feeling is also important because it lets others know what’s going on with you and gives them an opportunity to help support you as well. It can be difficult to talk about feelings when we’re struggling, but opening up can make us feel better in the long run.
Find Treatment for Mental Illness with Acera
The best way to deal with seasonal affective disorder is to seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Make sure that you have enough exposure to natural light throughout the year so that your body doesn’t become used to this type of environment only during certain times of the year. Antidepressants and talk therapy can also be a big help in treating seasonal depression. Make time to move your body and exercise.
Try staying connected with friends, family members, and loved ones who will provide support when needed as well as encouragement when they notice an improvement in your moods. If you or someone you know commonly has seasonal depression during the winter months, now is the time to reach out.
We can set you up with a treatment plan to help you get ahead of the struggle. Please reach out to us here at Acera at (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.