We all have bouts of sadness, but when low moods, loss of appetite, and feelings of isolation occur regularly every fall and winter – and don’t subside till the seasons change – you may be experiencing a potentially more serious disorder called seasonal depression, sometimes also referred to as seasonal affective disorder.
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
Many people experience brief periods of time where they are sad or not like their normal selves. Sometimes, these mood changes start and finish when the seasons change. Occasionally, these mood changes are more severe and can influence how a person thinks, feels, and manages daily activities. If you have recognized substantial changes in your behavior and mood as the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression symptoms.
WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEASONAL DEPRESSION
The colorful lights of the holiday season are more than decoration; they can also help normalize your moods. During late fall and winter, fewer daylight hours can result in little to no sun exposure, signaling your brain to create abnormal quantities of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
When your brain starts making copious amounts of melatonin, it can lead to seasonal depression, a mood disorder affecting an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population.
CHASE AWAY THE SEASONAL BLUES
Absorbing natural, full-spectrum light regulates hormones in the brain, and helps keep your mood stabilized. Other ways to stave off seasonal depression:
- Invest in a light box to mimic outdoor light. This type of light may cause chemical changes in the brain that improve moods and ease other symptoms of SAD.
- Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Don’t let your dreams of perfection ruin your holiday spirit. Some things are simply good enough and should be enjoyed, like food, companionship, and gifts.
- Foster wellness. Get seven hours of sleep daily, exercise for 30 minutes, and limit your alcohol intake to fight the seasonal blues.
- Bask in the sun. Walk away from your desk or put down your mobile device. Fifteen to 30 minutes of early morning sunlight helps to control your internal clock.
- Take up winter hobbies. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy indoor activities – catch up on your favorite author or podcast, or start a new home improvement project, and adjust leisure activities to align with the seasons.
IT’S DIFFERENT TO DEPRESSION OR SADNESS
Major depression is a disease where your brain’s pleasure responses are fractured. You may suffer a loss of appetite, tiredness, problems sleeping, and feel hopeless. Depressed people often find it difficult to manage symptoms during the winter. But when the symptoms are only affecting you during the winter, you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Whereas sadness is a normal part of your everyday life – being disappointed your favorite television program or comics podcast was canceled, for instance – that goes away without intervention, seasonal depression has very specific triggers and a time frame and requires some creative effort to make it subside.
MEN CAN HAVE IT, TOO
It’s always been assumed that seasonal depression mostly affects women, but that narrative is slowly changing. According to Dr. Andrew Angelino, director of psychiatry at Howard County General Hospital, “The classic crying and melancholic depression is more the norm of expression in women. But men express things differently, showing depression with more irritability, anger or frustration.”
Overall, about one in 20 people experience seasonal variation in depression, with fall and winter showing the biggest changes.
CRITERIA FOR DIAGNOSIS
For diagnosis, a person meets the following:
- They must have symptoms of major depression or the criteria in the DSM-5
- The depressive episodes occur only during the winter months or the summer months for at least 2 consecutive years
- The episodes must be more frequent compared to other depressive episodes
KETAMINE FOR SEASONAL DEPRESSION
Another option is ketamine therapy, which has shown great promise over the years in treating symptoms of mental illness, chronic pain, and other conditions which have responded to other medicine or therapy.
Don’t let seasonal mood changes get you down or linger for months or years on end. While it’s normal to be sad at times, seasonal depression can be a serious mood disorder. You may see improvement by getting outside to enjoy early morning sunlight or electing to try ketamine therapy.