As the seasons change, so do our bodies. We adjust to temperature changes, light changes, even social and behavioral changes. This transition can be overwhelming, which can lead to unwanted side effects, including low mood, general disinterest, or an overwhelming desire to eat and sleep. And, as nice as it might be to hibernate with some of our mammal friends, our external responsibilities still beckon.
Seasonal affective disorder, ironically shortened to SAD, is a mental health condition in which the changes in the seasons cause feelings of depression. It is also sometimes called seasonal depression. In most cases, this happens as the seasons transition from warmer, sunnier, longer days, to shorter, colder, less sunny days. This is called fall-winter seasonal affective disorder. Although more rare, it is possible to experience the opposite, or spring-summer seasonal affective disorder. Both types of seasonal depression are marked by an overwhelming change in mood specifically caused by the change in the seasons. Many of the symptoms overlap with major depression, however when the season shifts to more or less daylight as tolerated, the depressive symptoms lighten up.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can mimic those of major depression. These symptoms include:
● Feeling sad, down, or restless for most of the day, every day
● Losing interest in enjoyable activities
● Sleep issues
● Weight issues
● Difficulties with concentration
● Feeling unworthy, guilty, or unwanted
● Thoughts of suicide
Because seasonal depression correlates to outside changes in the environment, the body responds in different ways. For example, fall-winter seasonal affective disorder symptoms are tied to an increase in sleep, weight, and exhaustion. Conversely, spring-winter seasonal affective disorder symptoms are connected to an increase in irritability and a decrease in sleep quality, tiredness, and appetite.
Seasonal depression, especially the more common fall-winter seasonal affective disorder, reacts positively to natural sunlight and light therapy lamps. Light therapy involves the use of a lamp that mimics natural light. This helps stimulate the brain to release the same feel-good chemicals it receives from the sun. Some research says that light therapy lamps are most effective in the mornings and should not be stared into, just as one wouldn’t stare into the sun.
Maintaining routine can help you feel productive and on-track. Though your body may be confused as to why it feels tired immediately after work, your brain can help it power through to keep your internal clock aligned.
A therapist or counselor may be able to help you implement routine, separate seasonal affective disorder symptoms from major depression or anxiety, and address negative core beliefs or fears.
If you’re struggling with depression, seasonal or otherwise, we can help. At Valued Living Therapy, we offer in-person therapy sessions in the Twin Cities area and via telehealth throughout Minnesota. We are inclusive of all relationships, sexual orientations, and identities, and passionate about helping you make lasting change to live your best life.