As the days become shorter, and the nights become longer, autumn is quickly approaching. For some, this is a well-loved and even longed-for time of the year that brings holidays and celebration. For others, this time of the year signifies shifts in mood and a longing for summer and sunlight. This sudden shift in mood is attributed to depression with a seasonal pattern, also commonly called a seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression consists of the same symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, weight changes, loss of interest in usual activities, and low mood, but has distinct differences. Depression with seasonal onset typically occurs during the colder months, when the amount of sunlight during the day becomes shorter than in the spring and summer. The sun sets much earlier in the evening, leading to the experience of shorter days and longer nights. This change can cause disruptions in sleep routines and our inner circadian rhythms.
Seasonal depression typically resolves once the season changes from winter to spring. You are at a higher risk of experiencing seasonal affective disorder if you have a history of depression or bipolar disorder. However, within the general population, individuals with no prior mental health concerns can experience seasonal onset depression. Due to winter weather and shorts days, the month of January is typically considered one of the saddest months. On average, women typically experience seasonal depression more often than men. Geographic influences have an effect on the likelihood of experiencing seasonal depression. Typically, the farther north you live, the likelihood of experiencing seasonal depression increases.
When experiencing depression, whether it has seasonal onset or not, it is always beneficial to know your own early warning signs so that you can utilize your toolbox of skills to manage and overcome the depressive episode. Seasonal depression has unique and specific skills that can aid in manegment.
- Sleep hygiene: Establishing a solid sleep hygiene routine is essential when battling seasonal depression. Having consistent sleep and wake time, as well as nightly rituals, will aid in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. It will also help you feel more prepared to conclude your day and begin a new one. You can wash your face, brush your teeth, even make a cup of sleepytime tea. The main aspect of what makes this so helpful though is consistency!
- Light therapy: Increasing warm light in your home space is a highly recommended strategy for seasonal depression. In fact, specific LED lights have been crafted for those experiencing this disorder. Light therapy and exposure can trigger the same part of the brain as sunlight and help uplift your mood. Usually, 10 to 15 minutes a day is enough time to notice a positive shift.
- Outdoors: Increasing your time outdoors is highly recommended for most areas of mental health maintenance. When coping with seasonal depression, and you might benefit from going on a walk or spending time in the sun. Starting off the day by walking your dog, sitting outdoors, or taking a break at work to sit outside are methods for incorporating more sunlight.
As the shift of seasons is approaching, reflecting on how we experience the winter months can be a helpful way to recognize if there are seasonal patterns to depression. Then, we can prepare and make a game plan for a healthy holiday season.
If you would like to learn more coping mechanisms for dealing with seasonal affective disorder, or anxiety and depression, give Tx harmony Counseling a call at (832) 352-1600 or contact us here.