What is Seasonal Depression? 

Seasonal Depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a major depressive disorder that usually associated with a seasonal pattern. Symptoms of seasonal depression generally last for four or five months during the winter season, when the days become shorter, but variations of this disorder can occur in the summertime. 

What causes Seasonal Depression? 

Our circadian rhythm is controlled by two important chemicals in our bodies, serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is boosted in the daylight hours, allowing us to feel awake each morning.  Melatonin, on the other hand, is released when it’s dark out, encouraging us to sleep when the sun goes down. When these chemical levels are altered, it can have a significant effect.

Seasonal Depression is linked to the disruption of our normal circadian rhythm that occurs when there are fewer hours of daylight. In the winter months, our bodies experience a boost in melatonin and a drop in serotonin due to the lack of light. Since both serotonin and melatonin are involved in regulating processes such as appetite, mood and sleep, changes in these chemicals can cause serious consequences in our lives. 

Someone may be at higher risk of seasonal depression if they already have major depression or if they live in an area further away from the equator.  There is also some evidence to suggest that seasonal depression can run in the family. This genetic component may predispose certain people to these symptoms more than others. 

Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression may lead to a lack of motivation, decreased energy, and poor concentration. It may feel more difficult to wake up in the morning. Some people may find themselves eating more than usual, especially sweets and starches, which can cause weight gain. A tendency to withdraw from social situations can mean that work and relationships suffer, often leading to a worsening feeling of depression.

Treatments for Seasonal Depression

Since stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy behaviors, tackling stress is key in addressing seasonal depression! Regular exercise is known to help reduce stress and anxiety. Stress can also be managed through mindfulness practice, such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi. Similarly, making healthier choices, like eating healthy and getting enough sleep, can help reduce seasonal depression symptoms. Additionally, finding a support system and socializing with friends or loved ones have also been proven beneficial. 

Finding ways to brighten up your day (literally!) are also effective at reducing symptoms since seasonal depression is caused by the shorter daylight hours. Open the windows and turn on lights to make your environment brighter. Getting outside for a couple hours allows you to soak up some natural light that may curb the effects of seasonal depression, even on a cold day. 

For more severe cases, it is common to seek professional treatment for seasonal depression. Many therapists provide talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, to manage depression symptoms. Some therapists use a technique called light therapy, which uses artificial light exposure to modulate brain chemicals and reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.  In some cases, a psychiatrist may recommend prescription medications, such as antidepressants.  

If you think you may have seasonal depression, please contact your healthcare provider. 

Book an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist.