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  • Writer's pictureEmma Baglietto

Seasonal Depression: Understanding What it is and How to Help it

As we transition into the fall and winter months, when there is less natural sunlight, it’s important to be aware of the potential impact that plays on both mood and cognitive function. The decrease in sunlight exposure can disrupt our internal sleep-wake clock, known as our circadian rhythm, leading to mood-related issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is closely linked to the amount of sunlight a person is exposed to. Sunlight stimulates the hypothalamus, a part of the brain responsible for regulating our circadian rhythm. A lack of natural light can disrupt this rhythm, leading to an overproduction of the sleep hormone melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, the mood-regulating neurotransmitter.


Common Symptoms:

SAD can manifest in various ways. Common symptoms include persistent low mood, a loss of interest in daily activities, irritability, feelings of despair, and social withdrawal. Physical symptoms can include increased sleep, changes in appetite, and weight gain. Additionally, individuals with SAD may experience problems with concentration and memory.


Factors that can increase the risk of developing SAD:

  • Family History: If your close relatives have experienced SAD or other forms of depression, it could increase your susceptibility to SAD due to potential genetic predisposition.

  • Existing Mental Health Conditions: If you already struggle with major depression or bipolar disorder, SAD can exacerbate your symptoms during specific seasons, making it a seasonal challenge in addition to your existing condition.

  • Geographical Location: SAD is more common in regions far from the equator because they experience shorter daylight hours during the winter. Reduced sunlight exposure during these seasons is a key trigger for SAD.

  • Vitamin D Levels: Lower exposure to sunlight, especially during the winter months, can lead to decreased levels of vitamin D in your body. This decrease can affect the activity of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin and contribute to the development of SAD.

Treatment for SAD:


Light Therapy

In light therapy you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you're exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.


Psychotherapy

  • Learn healthy ways to cope with seasonal depression, especially with reducing avoidance behaviors and scheduling meaningful activities.

  • Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.

  • Learn how to manage stress.

  • Build healthy behaviors, such as increasing physical activity and improving your sleep patterns.


Medication

Some people with more severe cases of SAD or a long history of depression may benefit from medication. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider to figure out what works best for you.


At-Home Remedies that can Combat SAD:

  • Maximize sunlight exposure: Spend time outdoors, even if it's just a brief walk during lunchtime. Ensure your home and workplace are well-lit and utilize natural light as much as possible.

  • Regular exercise: Engage in physical activity, especially outdoors and during daylight hours, to boost mood and energy levels.

  • Balanced diet: Maintain a healthy and well-rounded diet to support overall well- being.

  • Stress management: Implement stress-reduction techniques to mitigate the impact of stress on your mental health. Examples of stress-reduction techniques include breathe focus, mindfulness meditation and yoga.

  • Communication: Communicating with family and friends is essential. Explain how SAD affects your mood and daily life during the darker months. Sharing your experiences can help them better understand what you're going through, and their support can make a significant difference.




Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real and challenging condition. If you are battling SAD, remember you’re not alone and there are steps you can take to manage its symptoms and improve your quality of life. Don't hesitate to reach out! Book with me today and we can take the first step together toward finding relief.

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