Sofie Wise

Leah McCabe

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About Author — Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

What is Seasonal Depression And What Can You Do To Fix It?

With winter in full swing many of us are not getting outside as much as we do during the warmer months. Shorter days and colder temps leave many of us without vitamin D-rich sun exposure. This can lead to seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is known to affect as many as 10 million Americans each year. If the change of the seasons has you feeling down, you’re not alone.

Read on to learn about seasonal depression and what exactly you can do to combat it. 

What is Seasonal Depression Caused By? 

Seasonal depression is thought to be caused by a change in how much daylight someone is exposed to. One hypothesis as to what causes this condition has to do with a change in melatonin production, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. 

When it’s dark, the pineal gland starts to produce melatonin to help the body get ready for sleep. When we aren’t getting as much sun during the winter months, when the days are shorter, melatonin production may be higher. This increase in melatonin often makes people feel more fatigued. 

Another potential cause of seasonal depression has to do with serotonin regulation, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Serotonin levels may be lower during the winter months.

Vitamin D may also play a large role. Not getting enough vitamin D has been linked to depression, and when you aren’t getting as much sun, it may increase your risk of depression in the winter months. 

Who is Most Likely to be Affected by SAD?

Women are more affected by seasonal affective disorder than men.

A personal history or a family history of depression can also increase one’s risk. 

Location also plays a role. Those who live very north or south of the equator are also thought to be more prone to be affected by SAD. 

Symptoms Of Seasonal Depression

Seasonal affective disorder can present with slightly different symptoms depending on if you experience SAD in the fall and winter months or the summer. 

Here are some of the symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter. 

  • Sadness 
  • Irritability 
  • Fatigue/low energy 
  • Sleeping far more than usual 
  • Change in appetite 
  • Weight gain 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Distancing yourself from social interactions

Symptoms of SAD in the summer 

  • Anxiety 
  • Insomnia 
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite 

How Can You Prevent Seasonal Depression?

If SAD is something that you are prone to, and you know that it’s something that impacts you each winter, there are some preventative steps you can take. 

Eat a Balanced Diet: Nutrition is key for overall health, and can play a huge role in your overall energy levels. Try to steer clear of starchy, carb-heavy, sugary foods all year long to really help give your body the best boost during the winter months. Enjoy lots of whole and nutrient-dense foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, avocados, and wild-caught fish. 

Get Active: Staying active does more than just support your physical health, it also supports your overall mental health as well. Try to move your body daily, even if you feel like just sitting around. The more you make this a habit, the easier it will become. 

Try Light Therapy: Light boxes are now available that you can purchase and use each day. In order to gain the benefits to help with SAD, you will want to use it for 30-60 minutes each day. 

What To Do Once You Realize You Already Have Seasonal Depression 

If this is your first winter experiencing or being diagnosed with seasonal depression there are things you can do. In addition to the tips above (light, healthy diet, exercise), there are some other ways to help support your body during the winter. 

Vitamin D Supplementation: Since a lack of vitamin D is common in the winter months, and has been linked to depression, making sure you are getting enough is key. It’s hard to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, so supplementation is often necessary. Speak with your doctor about adding a vitamin D3 supplement to your supplement routine. 

Self-care: Self-care is always important, and if you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, make sure to make yourself a priority. Take time to do things that you enjoy, exercise, eat well and seek treatment sooner rather than later if symptoms start to pop up. 

Counseling: Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatment options when things like light therapy alone aren’t enough to treat seasonal depression. 

Antidepressants: Just like depression, sometimes seasonal depression requires treatment with antidepressants. If this is something that’s affecting you, book an appointment with a PlushCare doctor today to start treatment, and feel your best throughout the winter months. 

Don’t Let Seasonal Affective Disorder Get You Down This Winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and it’s something that affects millions of people each year. Don’t let it drag you down this winter. Take the steps now to make a change in how you approach the winter months and seek treatment early if needed. It could make all the difference in how you feel this winter. 

References

Psychology Today. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Accessed December 2, 2019 at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

NCBI. Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? Accessed December 2, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/

Medical News Today. How Can You Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder? Accessed December 2, 2019 at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320163.php#1

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