Seasonal Depression: What is It, and How to Manage the Symptoms?

Seasonal depression is real and must be taken seriously. (Image via Freepik/ Stefamerpik)
Seasonal depression is real and must be taken seriously. (Image via Freepik/Stefamerpik)

Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that's brought on by a change in the weather, typically when fall arrives. This depression exacerbates in late autumn and early winter before subsiding in the warmer days of spring.

The 'winter blues' are a minor form of SAD that can also occur. It's typical to have some sadness throughout the winter. SAD impacts daily life, including how you feel and think, unlike the winter blues.

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Seasonal Depression Symptoms

The symptoms generally last for 4-5 months. Therefore, in addition to the signs and symptoms of major depression, SAD also has some unique symptoms that are different for winter-pattern and summer-pattern SAD. Not everyone with SAD experiences all the symptoms listed below.

For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Specific symptoms for summer-pattern SAD may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

Management of SAD Symptoms

Here are some ways to manage SAD:

1) Therapy

The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, is to teach patients how to deal with challenging circumstances. CBT has also been customized for SAD patients (CBT-SAD).

It usually lasts for six weeks and consists of two group sessions per week. Its main goal is to replace negative thoughts related to the winter season, such as those regarding the season's darkness, with more positive ones.

Additionally, behavioral activation, a technique used in CBT-SAD, assists people in choosing and scheduling enjoyable, interesting indoor or outdoor activities to counteract the loss of interest they frequently feel in the winter.


2) Prioritize social activities

Staying connected is an important step to recovery. (Image via Pexels/Kindel Media)
Staying connected is an important step to recovery. (Image via Pexels/Kindel Media)

Proactivity is the way to go. Why are social activities important if you have SAD? Studies have found a causal relationship between social isolation and depression. Isolation especially peaked during the pandemic.

One recent review article addressed the mental health impact of quarantining during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The review suggested that these periods of isolation can have a long-term psychological impact on people, including symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Finding creative ways to stay connected with others during times of increased isolation is important. Hanging out with relatives and friends at a local park, playing outdoor sports or yard games, or going on walks when the weather allows are some ways where you can feel connected.


3) Soak in sunshine

Ever felt instantly better after soaking in the sun. (Image via Pexels/Garon Piceli)
Ever felt instantly better after soaking in the sun. (Image via Pexels/Garon Piceli)

If you suffer from seasonal depression or wintertime (SAD), you should spend as much time as possible outside throughout the day to take advantage of the available sunlight. On chilly days, bundle up, and go for a short walk around the block at noon or just after because that's when the sun is at its best.

Keep your blinds open when you are inside to let in as much natural light as possible. If possible, locate your desk near a source of natural light if you want to work remotely. Indoor lighting is significantly dimmer than outdoor lighting, which might worsen SAD symptoms.


4) Make efforts to stay active

As fatigue and lethargy are the primary signs of seasonal depression, experts suggest making an effort to stay physically active to give you a burst of energy and elevate your mood.

A review of existing research on seasonal depression and the effects of exercise on it revealed that low moods and other SAD symptoms may be caused by changes in the body's circadian rhythm.

Our sleep, eating, and activity cycles are regulated by the circadian rhythm in accordance with the day-night cycle. Regular physical activity can assist in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm over the fall and winter, preventing the onset of SAD symptoms.


5) Make changes in your diet

The mood and food connection is real. (Photo via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)
The mood and food connection is real. (Photo via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)

Your diet can have a big impact on how we feel, how much energy we have, and how mentally healthy we are overall.

Changing your diet to include or eliminate particular foods may enhance other therapies for seasonal affective disorder. Foods and beverages that can aggravate the symptoms of seasonal depression should be avoided. Reducing alcohol use may be beneficial, as not doing so can result in unhealthy coping methods, negative attitude on life, and lethargy.

According to a study, those with seasonal depression who drink heavily have low energy, depressed mood, are less sociable, and experience unfavorable alterations in their sleep habits. These symptoms are often less severe in SAD sufferers who abstain from drinking.


Takeaway

Your quality of life can be negatively impacted by seasonal depression. However, whether you attempt therapy, medicine, lightbox, or any other technique, there are always ways to lessen the severity of your symptoms. It's important to consult a medical expert, though, if your symptoms intensify or persist.


Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.


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Edited by Bhargav