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Seasonal depression: How to know if you have it and what to do about it

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects many people yearly, making it one of the most common mental health disorders. People with seasonal depression usually experience extreme moodiness and sadness during specific times of the year.

They may experience such symptoms typically during the fall and winter seasons, with symptoms worsening farther away from spring and summer. This condition can have severe consequences if left untreated.

As a result, it’s essential to know how to identify SAD and what treatments work best.

Read on to learn more about seasonal depression and how you can manage it effectively.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

The seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs during certain times of the year (usually winter) in people who don’t get enough sunlight. The condition may also be called winter depression or winter blues.

People with seasonal affective disorder are at higher risk for other mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse problems.

Exposure to sunlight increases brain chemicals called serotonin and dopamine levels, which can alleviate symptoms of SAD.

Symptoms of seasonal depression

If you think you might be experiencing SAD, ask yourself these questions: Do I feel sad, hopeless, irritable, or lack energy? Have my sleeping patterns changed?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, there’s a chance that seasonal affective disorder is affecting your life. The most common symptoms of seasonal depression include:

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Decreased interest in activities that usually give pleasure
  • Overeating
  • Oversleeping
  • A craving for starchy or sweet foods
  • Weight gain
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating

For some people with SAD, depressive episodes can occur during any season. Still, for most people with SAD, winter months are a difficult time due to low light exposure. This makes winter seem especially dark and dreary for those who struggle with seasonal depression.

To understand these symptoms better, you can pursue a nursing degree focusing on mental health care. Plenty of courses are offered online to help you obtain your desired degree.

For instance, you can enroll in Baylor university’s accelerated nursing programs online, allowing you to study at your own pace. The program will equip you with the knowledge needed to provide patients with comprehensive mental healthcare and to recognize signs of depression.

The top 5 causes of seasonal depression (and how to beat them)

If you’ve ever experienced seasonal depression, you know how frustrating it can be. It’s hard to feel happy when surrounded by many factors that cause you to feel down.

If you suffer from seasonal depression, here are the top five things that are probably causing your moodiness and how to address them.

1. Biological clock change

Many people get depressed during a seasonal change, like when summer turns into fall. Often, it’s due to a change in your body’s clock called the circadian rhythm.

This clock can alter your sleep patterns and even mess with your hormones, making you feel less stellar. If you find yourself getting down around seasonal changes, try adjusting your daily schedule so that you wake up and go to bed earlier or later.

For example, if you typically wake up at 6:30 am but are feeling sluggish in October, try waking up at 6 am instead. If it helps, note these changes on a calendar so that they become routine.

2. Brain chemical imbalance

The brain chemical serotonin plays an essential role in regulating your mood and sleep cycles, so its imbalances are often behind seasonal depression. When you are low on serotonin, you may have trouble sleeping or be more irritable than usual.

This type of depression is highly treatable with medications that balance out serotonin levels in your brain. However, these drugs can have side effects like nausea and weight gain.

3. Vitamin D deficiency

Sunlight converts vitamin D into its active form in our bodies.

Vitamin D deficiency, therefore, could be causing your SAD symptoms. If you’re experiencing winter-time depression and live in a place that doesn’t get much sunlight year-round, talk to your doctor about checking your vitamin D levels.

If they come back low, supplementing with vitamin D may help alleviate some or all of your SAD symptoms. When you cannot go outside and bask in some sun, eating foods rich in vitamin D is an excellent way to get your daily intake.

Good sources include:

  • Wild-caught fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut
  • Fortified milk
  • Eggs
  • Beef liver
  • Mushrooms

4. Melatonin boost

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your body’s pineal gland to regulate sleep. Melatonin is released at night during sleep and works with other hormones in your body to keep you feeling refreshed, alert, and full of energy throughout the day.

It might be worth considering melatonin supplements if you suffer from seasonal depression.

You can find them online or at most health food stores. Make sure that whatever brand you choose contains pure melatonin without additional ingredients, as these could cause an adverse reaction to your health.

5. Negative thoughts

A common cause of seasonal depression is negative thinking patterns. It’s easy to fall into a negative spiral during times of stress. If you think negative thoughts, it can be difficult not to feel stuck in a downward spiral.

However, recognizing these thoughts and redirecting your energy toward something else can help stop you from spiraling. For example, if you think that nothing will work out for you or you don’t deserve success, try to turn those thoughts around with something more positive.

Wrapping up

Seasonal depression can manifest itself in subtle ways. Most people with season-based mood disorders aren’t conscious of them because they never seek help, which is a shame.

After all, light therapy and other therapies can effectively treat the seasonal affective disorder.

Even if your symptoms are mild, treatment may make your life easier. If you think you might suffer from SAD or another form of seasonal depression, don’t hesitate to seek help. It could change your life for the better.