Have you been feeling sad lately? Having issues with sleep? Waking up tired? And generally feeling ‘blah’?
This could be common symptoms that many experience in the fall and winter seasons in varying degrees. Or it could be the more intense depression of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) the emotional and physical changes that come on with the darker seasons. These are gradual for most but if you’re suffering from SAD the changes will be obvious and more extreme.
What is SAD?
SAD is a cyclical depressive period during the fall and winter seasons attributed to the lack of light.
The sooner you can recognize this is not just mood changes but could also be a health problem the better chance you have of helping yourself or someone else. Don’t just brush it off as the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to deal with on your own. There are steps you can take to steady your mood and motivation throughout the year. If you feel it may not be seasonal, check out How to Control Emotions: Taming Your Inner Beast
Compare yourself now to 6 months ago – are there any changes?
Signs and Symptoms of winter depression:
- Feeling depressed daily
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Problems with sleeping
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawal from social interaction
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder aren’t fully known. Some factors that may come into play include:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood) that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The natural drop in winter of the body’s level of melatonin will affect sleep patterns and mood.
- If you have a family history of depression you may experience the symptoms more frequently.
What you can do
Simple lifestyle changes can improve symptoms and lift your mood.
- Go outside for more sunlight
- Exercise to give yourself a physical and emotional boost
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Get a good amount of sleep on a regular basis
- Increase relaxation time by giving yourself more quiet, reflective time by yourself or with a friend or partner
- Remember to always practice deep breathing anytime and all the time.
Your symptoms may not improve right away but don’t worry a healthy lifestyle with the above changes will always be a good idea.
Asking for help is a good first step. Contact your doctor or mental health practitioner. Your regular doctor may be able to see patterns in your past visits relating to seasonal depression and help as needed. A counsellor can help you identify the negative thinking and behavior that impact depression, learn ways to deal with symptoms, and learn relaxation techniques that can help you regain lost energy.
If you’d like more information then get in touch with me at The Spaces Between Counselling to book a session or free consultation.
Liz Coleman, RTC, is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor based in Surrey, BC. She specializes in anxiety, anger, insecurity, and relationship problems. If you have any questions about this article or would like to schedule an appointment, please call Ms. Coleman at (604) 809-8947 or use the convenient form on her Contact page.