Ugh, this time of the year can be brutal. The older I get (I'm almost 41), the more affected by the subzero Minnesota conditions.
If you're snapping at your kids, irritated with your partner, unmotivated to do things, the blues might be getting to you too. Don't worry; we are not alone; seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of people every year.
Today we'll talk about seasonal depression symptoms, go over clinical treatment options, and five of the top ways to cope with winter depression that you can start right now!
Is Seasonal Depression Real?
Yes. It is a seasonal form of clinical depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that occurs during periods of lower sunlight, such as in the winter months. It can be triggered by shorter days, colder weather conditions (such as snow), or lack of sunshine exposure for an extended period. It's an official diagnosis in the diagnostic and statistical manual that mental health professionals use when treating patients.
How Does SAD Work?
When you're cooped up inside for days on end, from late fall to early spring, you miss valuable time out in the sun collecting vitamin d. When vitamin d depletes from your system, that's when everything unravels.
Parallel to you losing your sunshine vitamin, your days get shorter. You go to work in the dark and drive home in the dark; it's depressing! Wait, there's more. If you don't have a gym membership or extreme self-discipline (to work out at home), you become more sedentary. This sandwich can put you in a very sad pickle.
What Are The Seasonal Depression Symptoms?
Just like major depressive disorder or other mood disorders like bipolar disorder, symptoms can be unique; however, there are a general set of symptoms for SAD:
According to The American Psychiatric Association:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in commonly enjoyed activities
- Excessive fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death or suicide.
The only difference with SAD is the seasonal pattern it follows.
My SAD Symptoms:
I start to get snippy with my partner, like very easily annoyed by him, the smell of coffee doesn't get me out of bed in the morning, and I cry over every commercial, not just the Subaru ones.
How Long Does Seasonal Depression Last?
For most SAD sufferers, symptoms will last until spring when the days get longer again - but this can vary depending on an individual's circumstances.
SAD is seasonal, so it's normal for symptoms to start in late fall and finish in spring. When we change the clocks for daylight savings time, we can begin feeling the effects of SAD.
What Month Has The Most Depression?
This depends mainly on where you live geographically. However, January has the most reported seasonal affective disorder cases in the clinical sense. Looking at the number of Google searches in 2021, November had the highest search volume at 110,000 searches. That more than doubled that average number of searches per month which is 40,500.
How Many People Struggle With Seasonal Affective Disorder?
It's estimated that SAD affects approximately four to six percent of the United States population. According to the American Psychiatric Association, That means roughing 13,368,267 - 20,052,400 suffer along with us.
You Are Not Alone
That's a lot of people! And I don't know what that says about me and my level of selfishness but seeing that number makes me feel better. It makes me feel less alone, and I hope it does the same for you because you are not alone. I am here with you, and so are all of them.
How Do You Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?
This article is not about clinical ways to treat SAD; however, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few things you can do.
It is a standard seasonal affective disorder treatment method that uses artificial lights to simulate sunlight. These lights are placed near your face during waking hours and used for up to 30 minutes per day. You should not use lightboxes if you have a history of seizures. Bright light therapy should be used under the supervision of a medical professional for best results.
Call A Mental Health Professional
Another seasonal affective disorder treatment method is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps change the negative thoughts and behaviors that may contribute or compound SAD symptoms.
Talk To Your Healthcare Provider
You may qualify for medical intervention. Antidepressant medications are also commonly prescribed to seasonal affective disorder sufferers, especially during winter, when symptoms are the most severe.
If you think you may suffer from seasonal depression, consider speaking with a healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss the best treatment options for you. Family physicians can help you with this or reach out to a psychiatrist to see if you have quality and medical supervision.
Top 5 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues
Now that we have covered ways to treat mood changes clinically, let's talk about my top ways to cope with the winter blues.
Beat the Blues Tip #5: Vitamin D Supplement
Before you start any supplement, always consult with your family physician first.
Since you're not soaking up the sunshine vitamin due to less sunlight, make sure you're taking some supplements. Depending on how severe your symptoms get, it might be a good idea to have your healthcare provider check your vitamin d levels.
Beat the Blues Tip #4: Fresh Air
If you're like me, you run from your car to work. Run from work to your vehicle, and run from your car into your home. Those few seconds we are outdoors is not enough, and we need more fresh air to help us during these challenging months.
Step outside and get at least five deep breaths of fresh air every single day.
Beat the Blues Tip #3: Move Your Body Everyday
Even if it's for five minutes three times a day, get up, stretch, walk around your home, but make sure you are in motion.
I am guilty of not moving my body like I should during the winter. My motivation tanks and I have to make deals with myself to get on the treadmill for 5-15 minutes at a time.
But I know moving my body in terms of stretching is so good for me, or getting up and doing a few laps around my house a couple of times a day is helpful, so I do it.
A quick tip: I have three standing alarms set on my phone a day. When they go off, I get up and move my body for five minutes.
Beat the Blues Tip #2: Sit In The Sun Every Chance You Can
Since we are missing out on valuable rays from the sun in the winter months we need to collect minutes sitting in the sunshine whenever we can.
For example, when you are picking your child up from practice, park facing the sun, when you have a break from work go find a sunny spot to stand for a few minutes. During the weekend make sure you sit by a sunny window for at least 15-minutes a day.
Collect two minutes here and five minutes there throughout your day and try and build back your vitamin d levels slowly.
Beat the Blues Tip #1: Learn Something New.
I saved the most powerful one for last. My husband and I discovered this trick on accident about four years ago (side note we both struggle with SAD).
Four years ago, we built a barn, and to save money, he learned how to install electricity by himself. This happened in the winter, and it was the best winter we had in terms of mood in our fifteen years of marriage.
The geek in me needed to understand why. When we learn something new, we get a dopamine release (our feel-good neurotransmitter), and that dopamine offsets the depressed symptoms we experience with SAD.
Ways to learn something in the winter:
- Udemy.com has very affordable courses from cooking to crocheting.
- Watch an interesting Ted Talk while walking on the treadmill (two birds -see what I did there).
- Go to your local craft store, pick up a kit, and teach yourself something like knitting or something other craft-based activity. Even puzzles are a great way to pass the time. Try and avoid filling your time with your phone; use the creative side of your brain instead.
Other Quick Wins To Help Fight Your Seasonal Depression Symptoms
When your seasonal depression symptoms begin, pay attention to your sleep patterns, consider talk therapy as a preventive treatment, hire a personal trainer for accountability, and start watching what you eat.
Limit Sweet Foods
Sometimes I have carbohydrate cravings like crazy, which impacts my mood and my waistline. When I'm already feeling down, and then I add to weight gain, my mental health takes a bigger hit.
As soon as Christmas baking is over, I cut out sweet foods and watch my sugary treats because history has shown that I love to overindulge when I feel blue, which negatively impacts me.
Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Preventable?
The seasonal affective disorder is not preventable, but you can do things to minimize your symptoms. One of the best ways to manage seasonal depression symptoms is by getting as much natural light exposure as possible during daylight hours (especially in the morning). This might mean taking a walk outside or sitting near a window at home with no curtains
Take Action: Try One Tip Today
The good news is that you can do plenty of things to start feeling better today. There's something for everyone, from small changes like getting more sunlight and soaking in the rays to moving your body and exercising. So if you're feeling down this winter, don't wait – try one of our five tips today and let's start on the road to feeling better together.
Surround Yourself With Like-Minded People
If you enjoy laughing, tips on how to practice self-care while managing your busy life, and of course candles, we invite you to join our Candle Family. We host monthly challenges game nights and regularly post our private Facebook group Bella Vida Family. Join our family today and be surrounded by supportive, positive people in 2022!