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Is it Winter Blues or Seasonal Depression?

The shift from sunny and warm weather to cloudy and cool weather can make people feel more sluggish and gloomy than usual. For most people, these feelings don’t get in the way of living life. But, for some, these feelings do start to affect daily life. Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that affects up to 10 million Americans each year. It typically manifests itself in late fall and continues until the end of winter. It can lead to a lack of energy, an increased craving for carbohydrates, and a feeling of sadness and irritability that can last for months.

What causes seasonal depression?

The cause of seasonal depression is not known, but it is believed to be related to the lack of sunlight during the winter months. Sunlight helps the body produce serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood. When there is less sunlight, serotonin levels can drop, leading to feelings of depression. In fact, studies show that people living in Washington State are SEVEN times more likely to experience SAD versus those living in Florida (AAFP.ORG)

SAD seems to be more common in women than men and typically begins around age 20. The condition is also more likely to run in families.

What do the symptoms of seasonal depression look like?

Symptoms are similar to those of other forms of depression, but may be more pronounced during certain times of the year. Common symptoms of seasonal depression include feelings of sadness, irritability, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. People with SAD may also experience social withdrawal, decreased libido, and an inability to enjoy activities that were once pleasurable.

What are some ways to help with seasonal depression?

Knowing that you struggle with SAD can help you plan for the upcoming seasons. If you know that the winter months are usually more challenging, try to plan ahead. There are several ways to treat seasonal depression which may involve a combination of lifestyle changes and/or medication.

  • Lifestyle changes may include getting more natural sunlight, exercising regularly, eating healthy, and practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation. Additionally, it can be helpful to stay connected with friends and family, and to seek social support.

  • Medication for seasonal depression may include antidepressants and vitamin D supplements.

  • Another common treatment is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a special light box for 30 minutes a day.

  • Counseling can help you manage stress, understand your thoughts and feelings, and develop coping skills. If you’re struggling with SAD, talk to your doctor about whether counseling may be right for you.

If you think you may be suffering from seasonal depression, it is important to talk to your doctor. They can help determine the best course of treatment for you. It is also important to take care of yourself during the winter months. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, exercise regularly, and spend time with friends and family. Taking these steps can help to improve your mood and reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.

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