January is often referred to as the most depressing month of the year. It’s not hard to understand why, when we’re all coming down from the cheer of the holiday season and recovering from it’s expenses too. Not to mention, the weather itself is just more dark and dreary around this time of year.
These factors, among others, can put us into a seasonal depression or what’s commonly known as the “winter blues.”
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, or more clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), happens most commonly during the winter season. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the shorter days and less daylight in the winter may trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to symptoms of depression.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
While less daylight may trigger seasonal depression in people who are prone to getting anxiety or have pre-existing mood disorders, researchers claim that these are the causes for SAD:
- Internal clock change: When someone has less exposure to daylight, their circadian rhythm is thrown off. Think of circadian rhythm as your internal clock that regulates mood, sleep and hormones. When it changes, people may have trouble regulating their moods.
- Brain chemical imbalance: Sunlight regulates the production of brain chemicals like serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness. With the lack of sunlight in the winter, serotonin levels can be reduced, affecting your mood.
- Lack of Vitamin D: Serotonin production is also boosted by Vitamin D. And since Vitamin D is dependent on sunlight, the lack of it can cause a decrease in Vitamin D production, which in turn, affects both serotonin and your mood.
- Increase in Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production increases at night, when sunlight isn’t present. So during a darker winter, you may feel sluggish and sleepier than usual since you might have more melatonin present.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
According to Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression. So those affected by SAD during winter may exhibit signs of depression such as:
- Feelings of sadness
- Weight gain and increased carb cravings
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Loss of hope or worth
- Lack of focus
- Feeling heavier
- Loss of interest in usual activities, including social interactions
What is the Best Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Here are the best treatments for seasonal depression (or SAD) that you can do from home.
Coach tip: If you have a pre-existing medical condition, like bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor. They can prescribe the correct therapy or treatment that won’t trigger a worsening effect such as a manic episode.
Since the lack of sunlight seems to be the culprit for the mood changes during winter, light therapy seems to be the most appropriate treatment.
According to medical sources like Hopkins Medicine, you can get a special light box that will mimic the effects of daylight for regulating serotonin levels. You’d only need a few minutes of exposure each day, but consult with a doctor first to make sure you’re getting a safe and effective product.
You can also try to make your environment at home brighter by opening the blinds, trimming tree branches that shade light, or if budget permits, add skylights. During the day, sit closer to bright windows that get the most light in your home.
Mind-body Coping Methods
According to Mayo Clinic, these mind-body coping methods can be an effective treatment for seasonal depression:
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga
- Stress relief such as breathing exercises and practicing gratitude
- Meditation for any part of the day
- Get outdoors with nature therapy
- Music or art therapy
Coach tip: any physical activity or exercise, even if it’s dancing or walking outside, will boost your endorphins, which can immediately improve your mood and self-esteem.
Social isolation can be a huge contributor to depression and can even impact your physical well-being. When you're feeling depressed, it can be hard to get out and be social, especially in quarantine. However, it’s important to stay connected to your loved ones. They can be there to support you, whether it’s to vent or lighten your day with a funny meme.
Final Thoughts: How to Cope with Seasonal Depression
If you’d like more tips on how to cope with seasonal depression, try Yes Health free for 14 days, and see what your coaches recommend for you.