Seasonal depression: the not-so-colourful side to the changing seasons

Many people look forward to fall and winter because of the aesthetic of sweater weather, hot drinks, snuggling up on the couch with a book or watching seasonal movies. 

Although these elements of the chilly months are wonderful, the changing of seasons can be daunting for some people. The transition into the fall or winter can bring focus to negative aspects like the early dark evenings and the dry, freezing blizzards.

A person’s environment has the ability to affect their mood and well being. The changing seasons can result in not wanting to leave bed and having little energy to do any activity at all. 

Those that face the changing seasons with trepidation might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly known as seasonal depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is recognized by the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders and is classified as a subtype of major depressive disorder (MDD). 

While SAD is experienced when the seasons change, MDD is often felt year-round. SAD is mostly felt during the transition into the fall and winter months, but some people may develop it in the spring or summer. 

An article by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that when the seasons change, so does our biological clock. This is due to the fact that there is less sunlight during the fall and winter months.

A lack of sunlight could lead to a change in sleeping patterns, which interrupts the functions of happy chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. Less sunlight also results in lower levels of vitamin D, which is partially responsible for the regulation of serotonin levels. 

Symptoms of SAD include an irregular sleeping schedule, weight gain from overeating, isolating oneself from social events and an overall low mood and energy level. 

Anybody can develop SAD, but there are some people who may have an increased risk. This includes those who live in cold climates, as well as those who suffer from major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety or eating disorders. 

Although symptoms of SAD go away after a few months and don’t stick around like MDD, there are still measures that a person can take in order to enjoy the brighter side of the chilly seasons. No one should have to suffer through the symptoms of SAD during Canada’s lengthy cold months.

Here are some tips to overcome SAD:

Get more sunlight

Sunlight is good for you. Getting enough sunlight can support a healthy sleeping schedule and circadian rhythm, help maintain healthy bones and boost your immune system. 
According to an Everyday Health article, getting more sunlight can help those who have wintertime SAD. In order to increase your intake of natural sunlight, you could go for walks during the day and leave your blinds open in rooms that you spend most of your time in.

Improve your diet

When the colder months roll around, people like to indulge in comfort foods that make them feel warm and fuzzy. Although this behaviour is completely normal and healthy to do once in a while, too much sugar or processed foods can negatively impact your mood or worsen depression. 
Instead, Dignity Health suggests that there should be a balance between sweet treats and veggies in order to combat SAD. Incorporating vitamin D supplements into your diet can also be beneficial.

Meditate every day

Known to reduce anxiety and stress, meditation is an amazing way to reflect and regulate your abnormal moods caused by SAD.

When you’re depressed, your medial prefrontal cortex is hyperactive because it is busy processing your worries about yourself and your life. Luckily, meditation can help retrain your brain to not act on negative thoughts. 

You can do it anytime, so it can help with SAD year-round.  Healthline says that visualizing sunlight and warm weather during wintertime SAD can help calm you down. On the flip side, those with springtime SAD may want to imagine a winter wonderland or colourful fall trees to help them relax.    

SAD is more than just the winter blues. It should be taken seriously, so don’t hesitate to seek treatment methods that work best for you.

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Grace Nelson-Gunness is a reporter for Youth Mind. She enjoys watching Criminal Minds or reading a suspenseful horror-thriller novel while drinking a vanilla latte.

Grace Nelson-Gunness

Grace Nelson-Gunness is a reporter for Youth Mind. She enjoys watching Criminal Minds or reading a suspenseful horror-thriller novel while drinking a vanilla latte.

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