Do you ever feel depressed starting in autumn and experience these blue moods through the winter months? Maybe you find yourself in depressed moods that show up in predictable cyclical patterns. Seasonal changes or cyclical biological shifts can affect your mental health. For example, the less sunny months of a year tend to be related to the onset of depressive episodes for many people. Like other types of depression, seasonal depression (also known as seasonal affective disorder) may make you lose interest in things you enjoyed before and can sap your energy. Despite symptoms like oversleeping or increased appetite for sugar- or carb-heavy foods, you may not feel as energetic and healthy as in the spring and summer.
People with bipolar disorder might also experience low months during the fall and winter. Mental disorders such as seasonal affective disorder can be an influencing factor for developing substance use disorder. Understanding how the seasons changing relates to depression can help you watch for risks that might lead to addiction. There are also daily therapy strategies to help you cope.
Why Does Seasonal Depression Happen?
Reduced level of sunlight in the colder months of a year has much to do with the cyclical patterns of this kind of depression. Sunlight helps regulate your internal clock and provides a significant part of your daily vitamin D dose. Two types of chemicals (serotonin and melatonin) also decrease with reduced sunlight, leading to changes in sleep patterns and mood. These two chemicals are tied to the seasonal night-day cycle. Deficits in vitamin D may result in serotonin inactivity. Since sunlight and these necessary vitamins and chemicals in our bodies are so inter-connected, seasonal depression can certainly be attributed to chemical changes in the body.
Not everyone experiences these changes the same way. Research shows that women are more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder than men, and young adults are more likely to be affected than older people. Other risk factors play a part in the preconditions for seasonal depression. For example, people who have a family history of depression are more likely to develop the disorder. The farther away you live from the equator, the more likely you are to be negatively affected by the seasons changing. In self-diagnosis, one needs to consider all these factors. The best way to know for sure and to get help is to consult a health professional.
What Can Be Done to Alleviate Seasonal Depression?
Apart from traditional treatment for depression, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy, people who suffer from seasonal depression might try light therapy. By sitting or working in front of a light therapy box, which simulates natural outdoor light, your brain chemicals may be restored to normal levels. Light therapy is safe and has few side effects. It works especially well when used in combination with other medication or therapy treatments.
Because this subset of depressive disorder has a predictable seasonal pattern, you can plan ahead to prevent it. These include self-care techniques such as doing exercise and relaxation with more intentionality around the onset (fall season) or planning a getaway vacation at a sunny location in mid-winter. Intentionally eating a healthy combination of foods across all the food groups is also important. A doctor might recommend vitamin supplements to stock up your body. You can also make use of therapy in the fall season before the symptoms appear.
Are There Other Kinds of Depression Cycles?
Cyclical depressions happen when people go through short periods of time when they do not feel their usual selves. The symptoms usually appear and end in a regular and predictable cycle. These are not just mood swings. They are depressive disorders with a seasonal pattern with reoccurring onsets and remissions. People who suffer from these mental disorders experience a “slump” and then recover.
Among women, such cyclical depressive disorders may include Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Usually, in the week or two before one’s period starts, symptoms of irritability and depression appear. Intense feelings of anxiety or tension can even lead to suicidal thoughts. Then two to three days after the menstrual period is finished, these symptoms usually go away. Experts estimate that this disorder affects up to 5% of women of childbearing age. This condition might co-occur with and worsen other mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, chronic anxiety disorder, or substance abuse disorder.
Seasonal depression or depression disorders with other cyclical, reoccurring patterns should not be taken lightly. If symptoms worsen, they might trigger anxiety attacks, suicidal attempts, or substance abuse. It is highly preventable, but the key is to identify the patterns early and seek intervention.
Do you find it challenging to cope with the bleak fall and winter months? Do you always find yourself in a deep pit of depression during this time each year? You might have seasonal depression, which, if untreated, may trigger substance use and addiction. If you or your loved one is struggling with cyclical or seasonal depressions, it is best to seek professional help. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we have health professionals who can diagnose and treat your symptoms. Our in-patient and out-patient programs offer proactive interventions and a holistic approach. We offer cognitive and behavioral therapies, family relationship programs, and 12-step groups. Do not let seasonal depression disrupt your normal life. It is time to rebuild balanced mental health even during your dreaded winter months. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our counselors and therapists can also help you cope with other forms of cyclical, re-occurring depression symptoms. Call us at (866) 229-9923.