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  • Writer's pictureSpruce Psychiatric

6 Ways to Combat Seasonal Depression

The winter blues are more than just a passing phase. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects millions of people every year. For those experiencing SAD, the changing of the seasons, specifically the loss of daylight, can have a significant impact on mental health. It's a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of year, typically in the fall and winter months. 

It has even been known to occur during the springtime in our corner of the world, as the sudden addition of extra hours during the can not only disturb the circadian rhythm, but also amplify feelings of isolation. Observing others engaging happily in social activities may intensify a person’s sense of disconnection. It's important to recognize and address these feelings of isolation to support those struggling during what many view as a hopeful time of year.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Common symptoms of SAD include feelings of sadness or hopelessness, low energy, changes in sleep or appetite, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. While the exact cause is still not fully understood, SAD is treatable with light therapy, lifestyle adjustments, psychotherapy, or medication.

So, what causes seasonal depression or SAD? Reduced sunlight can affect an individual's serotonin levels, worsening mood and disrupting the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which influences sleep patterns and hormones. The reduction of sunlight can also lead to an increase in melatonin production, which regulates sleep and can cause lethargy and mood changes. Together, these factors contribute to the depressive symptoms seen in SAD.

Ways to Combat Seasonal Depression

If you think you may be experiencing seasonal depression, there are several things you can do to combat it. Here are some tips:

1. Light therapy: Light therapy involves exposure to artificial light that mimics natural sunlight, helping to regulate your body's internal clock and alleviate symptoms of SAD. Invest in a high-quality light therapy box and use it for 20-30 minutes each morning, preferably within the first hour of waking up.

2. Regular exercise: Engaging in regular exercise releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural mood boosters, and reduces levels of stress hormones. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

3. Mindfulness and stress management: Incorporate mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation into your daily routine. Additionally, prioritize stress management strategies like setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and seeking social support from friends and loved ones. Trying an app like Calm or Insight Timer might be an easy way to start incorporating these practices into your everyday life.

4. Cultivate meaningful connections: Social support is a crucial protective factor against depression, including seasonal depression. Make an effort to nurture your relationships and cultivate meaningful connections with others. Remember, you're not alone in your struggles, and reaching out for support can make a world of difference in your journey towards healing.

5. Talk therapy: Talk therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can greatly assist in combating seasonal depression. Through sessions, individuals address underlying thoughts and behaviors contributing to their depression. Therapists help develop coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and foster resilience.

6. Medication: Prescription medication can help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider to determine the right medication and dosage for your individual needs.

If you have made lifestyle changes and are actively engaged in therapeutic interventions, but are still struggling to overcome SAD, exploring medication options to further help may be warranted. Spruce has a number of qualified psychiatric providers that can help with this.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to seasonal depression. What works for one person may not work for another. However, with proper treatment and support, you can manage your symptoms and regain a sense of wellbeing.

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