Have you experienced persistent sadness in the winter? Do the colder months of the year always make you feel less like yourself? If you struggle with the gloom of winter, you are not alone. Many people share similar symptoms that resemble the onset of depression in the winter months. In fact, there is even a name for it: seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In the U.S. alone, SAD affects over half of a million people in winter.
Why Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Happen in Winter?
Scientists have found that winter months present a combination of factors that cause SAD. First of all, there is less sunlight, which may cause a drop in serotonin. This is a brain chemical that is responsible for regulating sleep and maintaining mood balance. Low serotonin levels affect sleep patterns and may trigger depressive episodes. The lack of sunlight may also cause vitamin D deficiency, another factor for depression.
Secondly, people tend to avoid social activities because of the cold. Social isolation also contributes to depression. Lastly, the general lack of outdoor activity and physical exercise is known to correlate with low dopamine and low moods. Many people experience a dip in their emotional well-being.
It happens that the winter blues may coincide with the holiday shopping frenzy. Too many holiday commitments may worsen people’s mood, which has already been affected by winter conditions. This is another cause for the increase in anxiety and depression.
How to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you have experienced a few cycles of SAD, then you know the patterns. It is better to be proactive in preparing yourself in the fall before SAD happens. For example, you can take vitamin D supplements ahead of winter. Finding physical and social activities to do with family and friends, even in colder months, is a good way to boost your emotional well-being.
To prevent SAD, you need to get sunlight exposure whenever possible. If your financial situations allow, you may even consider traveling to sunlit regions and spending a duration of time there during the winter season. Rest is also important in preventing SAD. Consistent and regular sleep can balance your circadian rhythm, making the body and mind sync better. Or you can join a mental health support group to ensure that you are connected with the right resources when SAD symptoms show up.
Practical Advice on How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Before the winter or holiday season arrives, you should double down on a healthy routine. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and staying hydrated. Do not resort to alcohol or drugs when you feel down. Even when you sense the onset of a depressive episode, find proactive ways to distract yourself by doing something fun and enjoyable.
Even in the winter, make sure you build enough exercise time into your daily routine. This may involve taking a short walk while bundled up, exercising in an indoor gym, or trying out some winter sports such as sledding or skiing. Explore new hobbies, such as music-making or crafting, that allow you to be indoors but emotionally and mentally fulfilled.
If the double depressive effects of winter blues and holiday frenzy happened to you before, make sure you set reasonable expectations for holiday activities this year. Although socializing with family and friends may be invigorating, some people may experience unhealthy personal dynamics around them. Limit yourself to events that are positive and uplifting.
Seeking Treatment and Practicing Extra Self-care
In the worst scenarios, SAD may lead to major or chronic depression. People with major depressive disorder may seek psychotherapy to get better. A professionally trained therapist will not only help you identify thought patterns but may also support you in putting more proactive self-care techniques in place.
There are many holistic treatment methods for SAD and they can all become a part of your self-care regimen. For example, you can purchase a light therapy lamp, which compensates for the lack of sunlight. Or you can devote time to mindful medication, which restores the mind-body connection. Keeping a gratitude journal is also a highly effective self-care method to lift you up from depression.
Apart from keeping your appointments with a therapist and practicing self-care at home, you can also stay connected with a support system. When you feel like you are struggling, they are the people you can reach out to, either by phone or email. You need accountability partners who are familiar with your conditions and are willing to step up whenever you need them.
Major depression or SAD are all treatable mental health conditions. Through diagnostic evaluations and personalized treatment plans designed by trained mental health professionals, you will soon be able to recover from SAD, even in the coldest months.
Many people living in northern regions of the United States struggle with the winter blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, and you do not need to suffer alone. Early intervention and treatment are essential if you want to limit the damage caused by a mental health crisis. Alter San Diego Crisis Intervention can help assess your mental health and give you various treatment options. We offer a continuum of care that includes partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. The services we provide will ensure you get the help you need to successfully maintain emotional stability. To learn more about our programs, call our office today at (866) 986-1481. Do not delay treatment.