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How to Treat Seasonal Depression

Do you find yourself feeling depressed only at certain times of the year, particularly during the winter months? You’re not alone. Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a common type of depression that many people deal with each year. Fortunately, there are resources for you to manage the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and improve your overall mental health during these times of year. In this blog, we’ll cover the symptoms of seasonal depression, potential treatments and tips for managing your symptoms.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression is a form of depression that occurs during specific seasons. While seasonal depression can affect someone during any season, it’s most common during the winter months when the days are shorter, and people have less exposure to sunlight. The reduced exposure to sunlight and reduced time spent outdoors due to colder weather can sometimes disrupt the body’s internal clock and affect someone’s mood. 

It’s important to know that Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just feeling a little blue during the winter months. It’s a diagnosable mental health condition that is accompanied by specific symptoms. It’s also important to remember that these symptoms can be managed and that you don’t have to just deal with the mental health effects of seasonal depression. Let’s take a look at some of the common symptoms so you can recognize if you might be dealing with SAD.

Understanding the Symptoms

While the symptoms of seasonal depression can vary from individual to individual, it typically manifests some common symptoms that many experience when dealing with this mood disorder. Common signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Low energy levels or lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawal from social activities or activities you typically find enjoyable
  • Changes in mood
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Feeling irritable or agitated
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

As you may note, these symptoms are essentially the same symptoms of regular depression. The difference is that you only have these feelings during a specific time of year. If you are experiencing these feelings for most of the year or year-round, it’s more likely you’ll be diagnosed with clinical depression rather than Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What Are the Causes?

Seasonal depression is believed to be caused by a combination of factors. These factors are typically specific to winter months and may include:

  • Decreased exposure to sunlight and vitamin D deficiency 
  • Reduced sunlight exposure disrupts the body’s internal clock
  • Reduced sunlight disrupted melatonin for regulating sleep
  • Reduced levels of serotonin for regulating mood
  • Genetic predisposition to mood disorders
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Changes in brain chemistry 
  • Substance abuse exacerbating symptoms

Being aware of the triggers for seasonal depression can help you address your symptoms, and your primary care provider can better tailor your treatment plan to your needs.

Common Coping Strategies

Fortunately, seasonal depression can typically be managed through coping strategies. Let’s discuss some of the coping strategies you might try if you’re experiencing seasonal depression this year.

Light Therapy

One of the best ways to combat the symptoms of seasonal depression is through light therapy. Since our bodies don’t get exposure to the same level of light in wintertime, sitting in front of a light box that emits light similar to natural sunlight can help regulate your body’s internal clock and boost your mood. Typically, it’s best to use a light therapy light for around 30 minutes per day, ideally during the morning hours. It’s important to note that you can’t just use any light for light therapy and that you’ll need to seek out specific light boxes made for this purpose. Fortunately, these light boxes are typically affordable and easily accessible, and your physician may have a specific recommendation for you.

Vitamin D Supplementation

Vitamin D supplementation is another potential coping strategy for seasonal depression. Since you’re not getting the same exposure to sunlight that you do during other seasons, increasing your vitamin D intake helps to alleviate symptoms. Vitamin D is essential for regulating mood, and you can easily access over-the-counter supplements to compensate for your lack of this crucial nutrient. Keep in mind that you should consult a healthcare professional to determine the proper dosage and to see if supplements are right for you.

Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care

Another great way to cope with seasonal depression is making changes to your lifestyle and incorporating self-care practices into your daily routine. Here are some lifestyle changes and self-care activities that you may want to consider trying:

  • Exercise — Exercise can help to boost your mood and energy levels. Moderate aerobic exercise daily can help boost serotonin and manage stress. You can even exercise with an activity you enjoy, like basketball, swimming or anything that gets your body moving. Of course, make sure to speak with your health care professional before starting a new exercise routine.
  • Improve sleep hygiene — It’s essential to get enough sleep when you’re feeling depressed and to avoid oversleeping. You can do this by practicing good sleep hygiene, which involves incorporating a consistent sleep routine and creating a comfortable sleep environment. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule and make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible to promote better sleep.
  • Eat a balanced diet — Eating a healthy diet can also help to balance your mood and improve your health. Make sure to consult your health care professional before making significant changes to your diet.
  • Practice stress management — Try stress management techniques like meditation, journaling and breathing exercises to keep stress levels low.

Practice self-care — Remember to be kind to yourself during this time and take care of yourself. Engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy, socialize with friends and family and seek support where needed. Taking these steps toward self-care can make a big difference when it comes to managing your seasonal depression.

Therapy & Counseling

Therapy and counseling are great tools for individuals struggling with seasonal depression. A mental health professional can provide you with a safe space to talk about your feelings, explore the potential reasons for your feelings and identify any underlying causes or patterns that contribute to your symptoms. Therapists can also help you develop coping mechanisms and give you strategies to manage your mental health. Of course, they can also provide you with support throughout your mental health journey. There are also various ways to get therapy, including individual therapy sessions, group therapy, support groups and online therapy. Therapy is more accessible than ever and can be a big help when managing SAD symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

The best way to address seasonal depression is to get an official diagnosis so your health care professional can develop a tailored treatment plan for you. Talk to your health care provider and be open and honest about your symptoms. They will evaluate your symptoms and determine if Seasonal Affective Disorder is the cause. If you are diagnosed with seasonal depression, the next step will be a treatment plan.

A treatment plan for seasonal depression will typically include a combination of the above coping methods we mentioned. Lifestyle changes, light therapy, vitamin D and therapy may be solutions that make your symptoms manageable. In some cases, your provider may determine that depression medication is medically appropriate. What helps some people with seasonal depression may not work for others, so it’s important to keep your health care provider updated on how you’re feeling so they can adjust treatment as needed.

Seeking Professional Help

If you’re struggling with seasonal depression, you should never hesitate to seek professional help. It’s a common condition that many people struggle with, and there are paths to managing your symptoms. While online resources can provide you with information and support, they can’t replace the guidance of a mental health professional. Make sure to speak with your health care provider about what you’re experiencing so you can start receiving treatment sooner rather than later. You don’t have to face seasonal depression alone! Professional help is there to give you the resources and tools you need to improve your mental health and your overall well-being.

Connect with a doctor or online provider

If you’re ready to speak with a primary care provider about your seasonal depression, Circle Medical is here to help. Circle Medical is a full-stack primary care clinic that offers both convenient online primary care as well as in-person care if you prefer. Circle Medical makes it easy to take control of your healthcare journey and experience healthcare your way. Ready to learn more?

Book an appointment with a Circle Medical telehealth provider today!

Circle Medical offers same-day appointments with our telehealth providers. Get started on your journey to better mental health as soon as possible and book your appointment with one of our providers today!

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