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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and Can You Spring Forward?

Sad woman alone during coronavirus pandemic wearing face mask indoors.

Summer is the season of vacations, pool parties, barbecues, and fun in the sun. It’s the time of year most of us look forward to. Winter, on the other hand, is the time of cold feet, windshield scraping, and back-breaking shoveling. It’s also the time of year when seasonal affective disorder affects around ten million people, in the United States alone. 

Spring is here, but you might still be winding down from being cooped up indoors over the winter. If you felt unusually sad throughout winter, then you might be wondering just what seasonal depression is. If you already know you’re one of the millions affected, you might be wondering how to treat it. The good news is that warmer weather is here, and it’s a great reason to get outside and overcome these feelings of depression.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, Millennial depression, or winter blues, is a type of depression that comes and goes as the seasons change. Typically, it begins to affect people around late fall or early winter, as the sun appears less often in the sky and sets much earlier.

Depressed young woman near window at home with seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Also Known As Seasonal Depression, Millennial depression, Or Winter Blues (Image Source: Shutterstock)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those that already have mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety, or panic disorders, are much more likely to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder as well. 

It’s also stated by Medline Plus that women and those that live far from the equator are more likely to suffer from symptoms of seasonal depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms

While seasonal depression may seem like a trivial disorder due to the fact that it comes and goes, it’s not something you want to dismiss. It’s a mental health issue all the same, and can lead to thoughts of suicide.

Milder symptoms are just as difficult to cope with, and can damage work and family life. Seasonal sadness symptoms are very similar to symptoms of depression, and include:

  • Gloominess
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest and pleasure
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Food cravings
  • Decreased interest in exercise
  • Inability to concentrate

In most cases, these symptoms begin to appear in those between the ages of eighteen and thirty, though in some cases, seasonal depression can worsen with age. 

Causes of Seasonal Depression

Earlier we mentioned that women, people with pre-existing mental disorders, and those living far from the equator are more likely to feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Well, there are other factors that play into whether or not you develop symptoms. Some of these are biological, while others are simply the balance of chemicals and hormones in your body. Let’s take a look.

Biological Risk Factors

You’re more likely to develop seasonal sadness if:

  • Other members of your family are affected by the seasons. 
  • Family members have other types of depression or mental disorders.
  • You have bipolar disorder or any other type of depression.
  • You have naturally low levels of serotonin.

Other Risk Factors and Causes of Seasonal Mood Changes

There are a number of other causes for seasonal moodiness that are completely unrelated to your biology. Knowing the causes means you’re well on your way to finding a solution that works for you. Any of the following causes, as stated by the Cleveland Clinic, may be affecting you:

Woman holding a pill and a glass of water.
Vitamins Play A Massive Role In Our Wakefulness, Our Sleep Patterns, Our Energy Levels, And Our Mood (Image Source: Shutterstock)
  • Your biological clock or circadian rhythm—Essentially, the reduction of sunlight and the change in daylight hours (plus the clocks changing for daylight savings time), can affect your body’s internal measurement of time. It may seem simple, but it can greatly affect your mood.
  • Your levels of serotonin—Serotonin is a brain chemical that is responsible for your levels of happiness and sadness. Higher levels of serotonin lead to better moods. When you’re exposed to less sunlight, your serotonin levels are usually lower.
  • Melatonin levels—Just like serotonin, melatonin plays a role in your mood, and the amount of sunlight you get affects the levels of melatonin in your body. It also affects your sleep patterns.
  • Vitamin D deficiency—Vitamins play a massive role in our wakefulness, our sleep patterns, our energy levels, and our mood. Vitamin D has many benefits. It’s the same vitamin you get from sun exposure, interlinked with serotonin. Lower levels of sun affect your body’s vitamin D levels, affecting your mood and susceptibility to seasonal depression. 

Looking into the causes of seasonal depression, you can already see possible solutions or treatments. But there may be some treatments you haven’t even heard of yet. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments

A lack of vitamins, sunlight, and warmth all have a sad affect on your body and mind. Luckily, there are ways that you can not only treat seasonal depression, but also prevent it from damaging your daily life to begin with. 

Prevention of Seasonal Depression

As you saw in the causes, the recurring trend in seasonal depression is a lack of sunlight. As such, many of the methods for preventing seasonal sadness are related to getting more light or at least the vitamins related to getting more sunlight. These prevention methods include:

Woman relaxing and enjoying the sun in a warmth park at sunset.
Spending Time Outside, Usually During The Middle Of The Day When It Is Warmest And The Sun Is At Its Highest (Image Source: Shutterstock)
  • Using a lightbox every morning, starting around the time of year you usually start to feel the symptoms of seasonal depression. A lightbox is just a box that emits very bright light, replicating the sun, which you sit in front of for twenty minutes a day.
  • Spending time outside, usually during the middle of the day when it is warmest and the sun is at its highest. Even if the weather isn’t great, or it’s cloudy, you’ll still feel better just from getting outside.
  • Taking vitamin D supplements. 
  • Eating well, and ensuring you get a lot of vitamins and minerals from your food. Avoid heavy and starchy items that make you feel less energetic. 
  • Exercising regularly—- at least three times a week for a period of thirty30 minutes. This could be anything from a run, to a yoga session.
  • Continuing to see friends and do the things you love. Find hobbies for the winter to keep you motivated and moving. Having things to occupy you and friendships to keep you social can make a world of difference.

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Just as there are many ways to prevent seasonal affective disorder, there are also many ways to treat it once you begin to feel symptoms. 

  • Exercise—We’ve already mentioned exercise as a way to prevent seasonal depression, but it can also be a great way to combat the symptoms once you feel them. This is largely because exercise reduces anxiety, balances hormones, and increases serotonin. 
  • CBD gummies—CBD is a great treatment for anxiety and depression. Try CBDistillery gummies as a more palatable option.
  • Speak to a mental health professional—If you feel your symptoms are too hard to control, or they bring up a lot of negative thoughts, then it’s wise to speak to a professional therapist. They can help you overcome your thoughts and possibly recommend medications if you’re having difficulties you can’t overcome.

Seasonal affective disorder is not something to take lightly. It should be treated like any other mental health issue. However, it’s important to remember that there ARE treatments, and that it won’t last forever. There’s always summer to look forward to.