What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that is triggered by a change in the seasons, most commonly in the fall and extending through the winter months as temperatures drop and the days become increasingly shorter. Although far less common, some individuals suffer from seasonal depression in the spring and/or summer months as well.
The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that as many as 20% of all Americans likely suffer from at least a mild form of SAD during the winter.
The Most Common Symptoms of Seasonal Depression
Regardless of the season in which an individual’s seasonal depression begins, it usually appears with mild symptomology that worsens as the season progresses. And there do appear to be some observable differences in typical symptomology depending on the season in which the individual is afflicted:
- Fall/Winter SAD:
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty communicating
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy feeling in the extremities
- Excessive sleeping
- Changes in appetite, especially a craving for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Spring/Summer SAD:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
For those individuals living with bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder may catalyze or accelerate manic or hypomanic symptoms in the summer and depression in the winter.
Coping Strategies for Seasonal Depression
No matter what you call it ― seasonal affective disorder, seasonal depression, SAD ― this is a very real condition that can lead to a substantial decline in quality of life, or even violence to yourself or others. If you are suffering from any of the previous symptoms mentioned, you should schedule an appointment with a doctor or other mental health professional who can provide a proper diagnosis, distinguish between your symptomology and other forms of depression, and provide therapy or even medication to help mitigate or even eliminate your symptoms.
In addition to seeking out a licensed medical professional, there are several coping strategies and emerging technologies that you can adopt and incorporate to persevere and even thrive during an otherwise difficult time as you deal with seasonal affective disorder.
- Light Therapy Boxes: These devices emit light that the body interprets as natural sunlight, as it is far brighter than a typical light bulb and illuminates in different wavelengths. The light works to stimulate the body’s circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin dispersal.
- Dawn Simulators: As the name would suggest, dawn simulators mimic the rising of the sun and help jumpstart the day. These devices are similar to alarm clocks, but rather than waking you up with loud ringing or music, they emit light that increases gradually, waking you up in a calming, natural way.
- Aromatherapy: Although it might sound a bit strange to some, the essential oils used in aromatherapy can positively impact the part of the brain that controls mood, regulates circadian rhythm, and dictates appetite.
- Exercise: Participating in quality exercise throughout the day can help offset any weight gain that might be occurring due to SAD and also help regulate sleep patterns (following point). Additionally, by exercising outdoors, individuals receive far more exposure to valuable sunlight, allowing their bodies to create more vitamin D in the process.
- Regulate Your Schedule: Individuals living with seasonal affective disorder often have difficulty sleeping at night and have a tendency to oversleep in the morning, as well as nap more frequently throughout the day. However, by working hard to maintain a regular schedule, individuals can improve the quantity and quality of their sleep, which could help decrease symptoms.
Orenstein, B. (2016, February 29). 12 ways to ease seasonal depression. Everyday Health. Retrieved fromhttp://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/treatment/ways-to-ease-seasonal-depression/
Seasonal affective disorder. (2016). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved fromhttp://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047