Seasonal Blues Got You Down?  Here Are Some Tips To Make This Your Brightest Winter Ever!

Tamara Dalrymple, M.A., a Registered Clinical Counsellor with Synergy Health.

Depression with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD) is a form of depression that presents at certain times of year and accounts for roughly 10% of all depression cases.  The weather and change in seasons can have an emotional and/or physical impact on everyone, but when symptoms start to interfere significantly with mood and daily functioning, it may be worth it to investigate further.

For most people with a Seasonal Pattern of Depression, the onset begins in the fall and tends to get progressively worse throughout winter as the days become shorter and there is less daylight.  There is also a small portion of the population who experience decreased mood in the Spring and Summer months.  Researchers have found that individuals in more northern cities are more likely to experience seasonal depression than those who live closer to the equator.

What Are Some of the Symptoms?

Many individuals with a seasonal form of depression will describe feeling tired all the time and may crave carbohydrates or report weight gain.  Appetite disturbance is also a common symptom, with cravings for starchy or sugary foods.  Sleep disturbance in the form of over-sleeping is also reported frequently, along with feelings of hopelessness or guilt.  Along with decreased mood, it may also be difficult for individuals to enjoy or engage in daily activities.

What Should I do?  Tips for Managing Seasonal Depression

  • If you think that you may be experiencing a seasonal form of depression, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor first, in order to rule out any other medical issues or associated conditions. (For example, thyroid problems can often present as symptoms of depression).
  • Try to spend some time outdoors each day in natural light and try to maximize sun exposure when indoors. (For example, keep curtains open, move furniture close to windows, move your desk close to the window or into the sunlight; trim branches or hedges that may block light from getting in to the house).
  • Aim to increase physical activity or weight training into your weekly schedule to assist in the increase of healthy chemicals in your brain, along with decreased stress and increased energy. Finding a way to exercise outside a few times a week is also ideal.
  • Try to incorporate healthy servings of fruit, vegetables, and lean protein into your diet to mitigate the carbohydrate and sugar cravings (that can also deplete energy). Eggs are also high in natural 5-HTP (which works in the brain and central nervous system to increase the production of serotonin (a chemical often associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety).
  • Purchase a full spectrum light (otherwise known as light therapy, light box therapy, or phototherapy). Sixty to eighty percent of people with seasonal depression report significant improvement with light therapy for up to thirty minutes per day.  Full spectrum light bulbs will also create a brighter light in the home during the winter and can be purchased at most hardware stores.
  • Clinical Counsellors can also assist in the assessment and treatment of all forms of depression. In particular, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can assist individuals in acquiring tools for coping with negative and unhelpful thoughts and actions that often accompany depression.
  • Medications may also be a helpful adjunct for many individuals in treating many forms of depression. Talk to your doctor to find out if medications may be suitable for you.

Herbal remedies may also be helpful but it is important to remember that even herbal remedies or vitamins may also have side effects (especially in combination with other medications). So it is always important to consult with your doctor, naturopath or health care provider when taking any form of medication or herbal remedy.

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