Ahh, the holiday/winter season- full of family gatherings, vacation time, presents, and fruit cakes galore. Indeed, “the most wonderful time of the year,” at least for some. For others, it is a dark and depressing time. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a “specifier” of Major Depressive Disorder, that is exacerbated during certain months of the year. While many people do commonly experience SAD during the winter months, it is not unusual for some people to experience “the blues” during the summer months. The key is that a person experiences an increase of depressive symptoms during certain season and then as the season passes, the symptoms dissipate.
In order to be diagnosed with SAD, one must have experienced exacerbated depressive symptoms during the same season every year for at least two years. It is important to differentiate whether the depression is related to the season, or if it is a more ongoing depression, because the treatment will be a little different for each.
According to Sherri Melrose, who wrote about Seasonal Affective Disorder in A Hindawi Depression Research and Treatment Journal, when the winter months occur and the sun is not out as long the brain increases the production of Melatonin. I n response to the over-production of melatonin, people may feel sleepier, which can have an impact on someone who is already prone to depression. Melatonin is commonly known as a pill you can find in the drug store that can help one fall asleep. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you sleepy, and most people's bodies produce this hormone on it's own.
Melrose also states that people who get seasonal depression, like other depressions, have trouble regulating the creation of serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter, or neuro chemical, that is thought to play a key role in depression. Melrose found a study that showed that 5% of people who have SAD also had an increase of a protein that interacts with serotonin causing it to lower.
So, what can you do about seasonal affective disorder if your brain is working against you?
1. Antidepressants- Make sure you are under the care of a doctor, or psychiatrist who can prescribe you antidepressants, or adjust your dose during the winter months. Different antidepressants will help with the regulation of serotonin
2. Vitamin D- Since the sun is not out as much during the winter months, it is a good idea to take some Vitamin D to help counteract the lack of it you will be having during the darker months. Be sure to consult your doctor before adjusting your vitamin intake!
3. Light Therapy- Sherri Melrose and many others talk about the use of light therapy. There are boxes you can purchase that will replace the lack of sunlight. This is something that you should consult with your doctor about. He or she can hopefully recommend one for you.
4. Go Outside- Despite the cold and the darker sky, it is important that you go outside a few times a day to get a breath of fresh air. Do not let Amazon and the local grocery stores who have convenient delivery tempt you to stay indoors. It is good for you to get out, and although it is hard to do, you can do it. Of course, if there are wintry conditions, use caution before going outside!
5. Lay off Computer Screens- When we were talking about light therapy, we do not mean replace the sunlight with computer light. Stay in connection with people by interacting with them in person, and get more involved in things like books or puzzles that are not on your phone or computer.
6. Plan Ahead- If you have had SAD for a few years now, you know the routine. If it is hard for you to cook during the seasons that affect your depression the most, prepare homemade food a few weeks or months in advance, and put them in the freezer for those wintery days that are coming. You can even put a post it note with encouraging words for your future self. Make sure to tell your family and friends that you will need them to help support you and interact with you. Also, plan ahead trips that will force you to get out of the house.
7. Be Warm and Cozy- Start up the fire, and if you do not have a fireplace light up some candles. Set a warm and cozy tone for yourself, whether it is by taking a warm bath, snuggling up in warm comfy pajamas, or a hot cup of cocoa or tea. Be creative and kind to yourself.
8. Journal- We all tend to get lost in our thoughts, especially when stuck inside on those snowy days. Journaling is a great way to get the thoughts you get stuck on out of your head and onto paper. You can also do a gratitude journal or happiness journal and write 10 things you are grateful or happy about each day.
9. Get Lost in a Book- Similar to planning ahead, plan to read a book that you have been wanting to read during the particularly draining season. Reading is a great way to momentarily escape, and is such an accessible activity for those snowy days.
10. Counseling- There are several different types of therapy a person can try, such as Cognitive Behavioral or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Not only can counseling get you to challenge thoughts and behaviors, but it will get you out of the house for a purpose other than going to the grocery store. You and therapist can help you regain a sense of control over your body and emotions, no matter what season you are in.
We at Davidson Family Therapy, know how hard the winter months can be. We would like to encourage you to do some of the things on this list, make an appointment, and continue reading more on the journal article that this blog references, which is listed below. You do not have to do this alone!
Melrose, Sherri (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Hindawi Publishing Corporation- Depression Research and Treatment. Doi:10.1155/2015/178564