Seasonal change often brings with it an indescribable excitement that fills the crisp fall air. As the wind turns chilly, the school buses begin running again, and the leaves begin to turn colors, many people anticipate the winter ahead.
However, for others, this time change can trigger a sudden shift in both their mood and mental health. Even with the holiday cheer on the horizon, they begin to feel depressed, unmotivated and exhausted.
You may not understand exactly why but as soon as the summer ends, you quickly turn into a miserable person void of all the summertime blissfulness.
Why does this happen?
If this sounds like you, you might be struggling with seasonal depression. Thankfully, you’re far from alone. Let’s chat about what seasonal depression is, and how you can manage it this winter.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder oftentimes referred to as “seasonal depression” is a mental health condition that is influenced by the time of year.
While during the summer you may feel energetic, bubbly, and ready to take on whatever life throws your way, as soon as fall rolls around you begin to slowly feel all of those positive emotions fade away.
Seasonal depression affects roughly 3% of the population and is characterized as a tendency to become depressed at the same time each year - most notably during the fall and winter months.
What Are The Most Common Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression can show up in different ways depending on each unique individual. However, there are many common symptoms that show up across the board.
Difficulty waking up
Increase in carbohydrate consumption
Loss of motivation
Loss of pleasure
While many symptoms of seasonal affective disorder mimic year-round depression, the physical symptoms often show up weeks before the emotional ones - making it much more predictable for an individual to see coming.
Can Seasonal Depression Happen During The Summer?
While not nearly as common, seasonal depression can certainly occur during the summer months, instead.
Unlike winter depression, summer depression is often rooted in a sense of “missing out” - watching others outside rollerblading, grilling, or having pool parties can make an individual feel isolated or unsatisfied in life. They may feel as though they need to be out participating, yet have nobody to engage in these activities with.
In addition, summer depression can occur when routines that were once set in stone are suddenly uprooted. This can cause major stress on an entire family unit leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
What Exactly Causes Seasonal Depression?
While the holidays are certainly a time of cheer, what then causes so many people to feel overwhelmingly sad and hopeless during the winter months?
While the exact cause of seasonal depression is still up for debate, there are mountains of research that point to a few factors:
Lack of Sunlight: Sunshine can cause an increase in serotonin - the brain's happy chemical. During the wintertime when people spend a large amount of time indoors our serotonin levels can take a dip. This can leave us feeling down and depressed.
Increase In Melatonin: Melatonin is our body's natural way of putting us to sleep. During the day, melatonin production is shut off when we come into contact with natural light. However, since many winter days can be grey and gloomy, melatonin production may not cease entirely - leaving us feeling less energetic and more depressed.
How Can I Manage My Seasonal Depression From Home?
What may be the only positive aspect in regards to seasonal depression is it’s sensitivity to treatment techniques. Seasonal depression has been shown to be incredibly responsive to both at-home remedies and professional help.
A few ways you can manage your seasonal depression from home include:
Light Boxes: Therapeutic light boxes are specifically designed to help alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression. These light boxes are meant to mimic natural sunlight and thus increase serotonin and decrease melatonin. It’s recommended to use a lightbox within an hour of waking, for around 20-30 minutes at a time. This short time frame makes it easy to incorporate into your morning routine and can leave you feeling much better overall as you carry on throughout your day.
Prepare Yourself: It might sound simple but it’s often overlooked: prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Plan out fun activities to do during the fall and winter months in advance. It can seem like a difficult task to try and find things to do while you’re already feeling down and unmotivated, so try to plan ahead over the summer.
Vitamin D: There’s still a large amount of research left to do on the efficacy of vitamin D for seasonal depression - however, many individuals that personally suffer from seasonal affective disorder claim that increasing their vitamin D dosage works wonders for their mental health. Always speak with a mental health professional before doing so.
If these at-home remedies just aren’t cutting it, you may want to consider reaching out for help from a mental health professional.
Therapy can help you address the root cause of your seasonal depression, as well as identify any negative thinking patterns you have related to this time of year.
Your therapist can guide you through the winter months as you navigate feeling down and hopeless.
In addition, therapy can teach you healthier coping skills you can then take forward with you every time the seasons begin to change.
Life is meant to be lived fully - not just for three months out of the year. If you feel as though you experience a significant shift in mood, mental health, and motivation every fall, it may be time to face your seasonal depression head-on. Year-round health and wellness are possible for you, too.