Is seasonal depression really a thing?
The days are darker & shorter. Our eyes don’t get to see as much daylight nor does our skin get to soak in as much warmth from the sunshine. The weather cools. Life around us slows down. Trees lose their leaves. Animals go into hibernation. Seeds lie dormant, metabolizing at low levels, waiting to sprout and grow in the spring.
These are natural mechanisms of survival. Prepping for the warmth and days that are filled with longer hours of light to once again flourish with bright vivid colors and fully express their growth.
Just as the plant life slows around us in the winter, so do our bodies.
Our metabolisms follow the rhythm of the earth. We stay inside a little longer. We cozy up on the couch with comfort foods and tend to stay inside more than the rest of the year. We “close up shop”, just as the plant life around us has as we cannot create the same energy with shorter days. We use dormancy for a little house keeping.
We are human after all. Unlike plant life we are susceptible to what is known as seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the winter season. We must adapt to a new circadian rhythm.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
The dictionary defines it as “depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by a lack of light”. It is less common to see seasonal depression in the summer months. Seasonal depression or SAD typically is diagnosed in the fall or early winter months. SAD is diagnosed after 2 consecutive years of seasonal depression.
Who’s at risk?
According to The National Institute of Mental Health:
Attributes that may increase your risk of SAD include:
- Being female. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.
- Living far from the equator. SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator. For example, 1 percent of those who live in Florida versus 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.
- Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
- Having depression or bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of these conditions (but SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common).
- Younger age. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.
NIH Article found here
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may include:
– Feeling “down”, hormonal, grumpy, anxious, moody, sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious
– Loss of interest in your usual activities
– Cravings for carbohydrate heavy foods like bread and pasta. Sugar cravings. Eating more than usual
– Weight gain
– Feeling lethargic or drowsy during the day. Sleeping more and still not feeling rested. Lack of energy.
-Social withdrawal or increased desire to be alone. Very similar to “hibernation”.
Ways to cope with seasonal depression:
-Exercise regularly. We know (I’m assuming if you’re reading this) how beneficial exercise is for our physical well-being. Exercise (of all varieties) release endorphins. This will elicit feelings of positivity and more energy.
-Get out! Make plans, be social. Do not sit inside and hibernate. Be connected. Socializing releasing oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Something as simple as a cup of coffee with a friend or a weekly commitment to walk with a group (knocking out both exercising and socializing, winning)!
-Make plans. More than just a weekly commitment with friends, plan a vacation or a weekend getaway. Take a stay-cation. This gives you something to look forward to, create and explore.
-Soak up that sun. Try to get out during the daylight and make the most of the sun exposure as you can. Open your blinds, let the natural light of day saturate your home. If that is not an option (possibly due to the configuration of your home), add lamps with natural lighting to recreate that affect as much as possible in your home.
-Communicate. Find people whom you connect with and share how you’re feeling. This may be a licensed therapist, a counselor at your community center, the pastor at your church. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
-Make time for you! Remember the analogy when the plane is going down….. you must put the oxygen mask on you first. Fill your own cup. Get a massage, read a book, get a pedicure (yes gentlemen, it feels great to get your feet pampered).
-Watch your macros. This is also the time to be a little more diligent about getting a higher protein and fat content into your diet. Holiday parties, social events, New Year’s celebrations…. All of the social gatherings typically come with an overabundance of sweets, alcohol and carbohydrate heavy foods. Extra carbs contribute to feeling slow and cathartic. Be prepared. Have a game plan. This will directly affect your mood, sleep, and possibly a few extra pounds in the winter months. Then we see the domino effect. Weight gain, less sleep, hormonal imbalance are all contributors to seasonal depression.
Consider adding supplementation during the winter season:
-Gaba is a neurotransmitter that supports calm and positive moods. It blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low gaba has been linked to anxiety and depression.
-5HTP helps the brain increase the synthesis of serotonin levels. Serotonin plays an important role that affects the sense of many conditions including depression, insomnia, & obesity.
-Ginkgo is believed to promote blood circulation in the brain. Therefore, contributing to cognitive function.
-L-tryptophan. The body uses this essential amino acid to change into serotonin (there it is again). Assisting in sleep and mood.
-Melatonin is a hormone that helps to balance sleep and wake cycles.
-St. John’s Wort contains mood balancing properties.
-Vitamin D is commonly known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D manages proper communication in the cells all over the body. You can supplement with pill form or incorporate vitamin D rich foods into your diet. Foods containing high amounts of vitamin D include: salmon, mackerel, other fatty fish, fish liver oils, and other animal fats.
Make the effort to communicate, get out, and be social. Take the necessary time to do your winter “housekeeping”. Also take inventory of how the shorter days are affecting your mood, brain, hormones, and emotions. It’s not just about the physicality, it’s important to feed our brains and stay in balance mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Fueling all of the mountains in our lives. Ensuring that when the sun does break through in the spring that our roots and seeds are ready for regrowth with brighter bolder colors. Stronger foundations will appear and our well being will be more optimized than ever!
Have you experienced or are experiencing SAD? How can I support you?
Don’t hesitate to reach out and contact me here
Bring on the chunky sweaters, bright fires, and warm cider (with a splash of scotch)!
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