How to Manage and Overcome Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression affects countless people around the globe each year. As the seasons wax and wane, millions of individuals suddenly find themselves barraged with discouraging thoughts, fatigue, appetite fluctuations, and chronic moodiness.
If you or someone you know counts themselves amongst the ranks of the seasonally depressed, take heart! You’re not alone. In fact, you don’t even have to submit to the inevitability of seasonal depression as an annual event — that is, if you take the time to learn about this mysterious struggle and then take steps to equip yourself to fight back.
What is Seasonal Depression?
While it may be cliche, it’s still helpful to start with a brief definition to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a seasonal form of depression that often strikes a minority of people at certain times of the year.
The most common time to suffer from this seasonal depression is during the cold, bleak, and overcast fall and winter months. SAD is still a study in progress, but some of the suspected culprits for the moody change are attributed to:
- A lack of Vitamin D absorption that leads to a drop in the supply of the mood-regulator serotonin.
- Hormonal changes.
- An imbalance of melatonin levels.
Most of those who struggle with SAD are women, although some men are certainly affected as well. The number of SAD cases also tends to go up in geographic regions that have intense sunlight for part of the year and a significant lack of sunlight — often coupled with shorter days — during the colder months.
SAD symptoms can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Long bouts of depression.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Fatigue regardless of sleep.
- Significant irritability.
- Steadily low mood.
- A desire for isolation.
- In extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.
Many of these symptoms, while primarily mental in nature, can eventually have profound repercussions on your physical health as well as your emotional well-being, which makes addressing SAD a priority.
If you’re familiar with the struggle with SAD, below are some methods, suggestions, and encouragement to help you overcome those brooding thoughts and find the light once again.
Much like when you lose a loved one, seasonal depression can be much easier to handle when you feel properly supported by those around you. This can be difficult, though, as one of the most common reactions for someone dealing with SAD is for them to push away those around them in an attempt to isolate themselves in their depression.
If you struggle with seasonal depression, one of the first steps that you should try to take, however uncomfortable it might be, is opening up to a confidant in order to begin building a network of support that you can lean on when things get tough.
Along with a close friend or two for intimate support, it can also be helpful to expand your support network to a larger social group. If you can find social circles that you feel comfortable engaging with on a regular basis, regularly exposing yourself to a stimulating social environment can do wonders for the state of your mind.
Provide Genuine Self-Care
Self-care is often a misappropriated word these days. However, while it may not be an excuse to be reckless or have unfiltered fun, genuine self-care can be an excellent tool to help fight seasonal depression.
And what, exactly, is genuine self-care? It’s taking care of your rudimentary needs in order to make sure that you’re in the best physical, mental, and emotional state to be there for others around you. In other words, if you’re struggling with seasonal depression, take the time to provide basic self-care needs by:
- Getting quality sleep on a regular basis and in the right quantities (7 to 9 hours per night).
- Eating a healthy diet that is meant to keep you in tip-top shape (not simply “eating with your eyes”).
- Getting regular exercise, even if it means taking the time to go to the gym while the weather is cold and the days are short.
If you can genuinely give your body what it needs, you’ll be in a much better position to fight back against SAD when it rolls into town every autumn.
Try Light Therapy
If you’re actively dealing with seasonal depression, one of the best ways to address that depression is through light therapy. Studies have shown that as many as 70% of those who have tried light therapy found relief to their symptoms within weeks of beginning treatment. Light therapy is a simple, affordable, and effective way to find relief from the perpetually dour moods and dismal lack of daylight.
Watch Out for Cognitive Distortions
One of the nastiest side effects of depression are cognitive distortions. As your mind sinks into moody, discouraging thought patterns it’s easy to subconsciously establish filters that heavily influence the way that you think.
These filters, known as cognitive distortions, can range from jumping to conclusions to overgeneralizing, reasoning emotionally, labeling, and several other self-destructive thought patterns. If you take the time to associate yourself with the various common cognitive distortions it becomes much easier to catch yourself “in the act” of using them. This, in turn, allows you to fight back against the depression and strive to regain a clear, positive mindset.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, if you find that your seasonal depression struggles are profound, don’t hesitate to reach out to a health professional for help. This can be a preliminary step, such as contacting a health educator to learn more about your options.
However, if you feel you need more significant assistance, pay a visit to your doctor to see if you require a medical prescription like Wellbutrin to help with the depression symptoms.
Defeating SAD This Season
There are many ways to fight back against seasonal depression. The important thing, though, is that you rouse yourself from your depressed, slumbrous state and make an effort to effect change in your life.
If you take the time to research your mental condition and gauge your options, you’ll be better equipped to manage your depression each season and, ultimately, overcome it and find happiness in day-to-day life year-round once again.