Although the holiday season can be a joyous time, it’s not always the case for many people – seasonal depression is a common condition that affects individuals during certain times of the year, especially when it’s cold, and there’s reduced sunlight. Here, you will learn more about seasonal affective disorder and what you can do to reduce its effects on your mental health.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As the name suggests, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that affects people during certain times of the year.
While it’s most commonly associated with the winter months and is prevalent in populations who live in areas that lack sunlight for prolonged periods, seasonal depression can also affect people during the summer months. The seasonal changes can affect a person’s brain chemistry, specifically with the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Therefore, if you’ve been feeling blue during the holiday season and you haven’t fully understood why, this may be the reason. As you continue to read, you will learn more about the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and see if it’s similar to what you’re experiencing.
The Signs & Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder essentially has the same symptoms as major depressive disorder, the most common form of depression. The only caveat is that seasonal depression usually goes away as time goes on, whereas major depression can be significantly more persistent.
Here are some of the signs that you may be depressed:
- Low mood and feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness
- A lack of pleasure for activities, especially ones that you used to enjoy
- Appetite and weight changes – can be a decrease or an increase
- Sleep difficulties – some people have insomnia, whereas others might oversleep or both
- Fatigue, lethargy, and concentration issues
- Suicidal ideation
Even though these symptoms tend to pass with time for those with SAD, they can be severely uncomfortable to have while they are present. It’s essential to seek treatment, so you know how to cope with them for future seasons, and next, you will read about some of the best ways to do that.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Like major depression, handling SAD typically requires more than one approach – light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy. The following section will discuss the importance of each of these.
Since a lack of sunlight is one of the root causes of seasonal affective disorder in individuals, one of the most prominent treatment methods is light therapy.
Light therapy entails spending time near an artificial light source, known as a lightbox, for approximately 30 minutes, usually in the morning. People tend to put them on their desks or counters at an angle so that it doesn’t directly hit their eyes; rather, it should merely expose them enough to it so that they benefit from it without damaging the eyes.
The bright light emitted from the lamp can help ease some of the symptoms of seasonal depression, and people can see results rather quickly, especially with their mood and energy. Darkness is associated with higher melatonin, a hormone associated with your circadian rhythm and promotes sleep.
As a result, some people who feel extra tired and sluggish, possibly from the increased melatonin levels, can significantly benefit from using light therapy.
However, if you have SAD, it’s highly recommended to start before the problematic seasons and continue to use light therapy throughout so that you can find relief from the beginning to the end of it.
Because a decrease in sunlight is linked to changes in brain chemistry, especially for people who reside in areas prone to it, medication can be a way to counter the symptoms of depression associated with reduced serotonin and increased melatonin levels.
Just like with major depressive disorder, one of the most frequently prescribed treatments for SAD is SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. However, sometimes SNRI, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, can also be an option when it comes to finding an antidepressant that works for you.
However, because antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs can take weeks to work, many individuals who struggle during specific seasons will start taking medication well before their symptoms usually appear.
Some even take it all year round at the discretion of their doctor or psychiatrist, whom these medications must be prescribed. You might have major depression during all parts of the year, but it simply gets worse during the winter seasons.
Therefore, if you have been showing signs and symptoms of depression, reach out to a professional so that they can formally diagnose you and get you started on medication that could be helpful, even as a short-term solution.
Lastly, one of the most effective ways to treat depression, regardless of whether it’s seasonal or throughout the entire year, is through therapy.
Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are very beneficial because they improve your mood by changing your negative thinking and behavior patterns, which can be very repetitive when in a state of depression.
By addressing these thoughts and responding to them in more productive ways, individuals who struggle with depression will learn how to function better in their daily lives and find effective ways to relax and reduce stress.
To find more helpful resources on depression and how you can beat it, consider visiting BetterHelp to read informative and in-depth articles about this common mental health issue. You can also find a licensed counselor or therapist who can teach you how to cope not only during difficult parts of the year but your entire life.
While therapists are mental health professionals, keep in mind, they cannot prescribe medication. However, these specialists can still diagnose you and help you create a treatment plan, and therapy is an integral part of that. Medication will ease some of the symptoms, but it doesn’t fully address the negative thoughts and behaviors that define depression.
If you suspect you might be dealing with seasonal affective disorder, it’s crucial that you seek assistance as soon as possible. By managing the symptoms, you can have happier holidays for years to come and possibly find ways to enjoy the season and look forward to it.
This article was contributed by Marie Miguel, who has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.