Seasonal depression, medically called seasonal affective disorder, is a period of time when a person experiences depression during the fall or winter months. Seasonal affective disorder affects over five percent of the US population, and at least one in five women have seasonal depression. While typically occurring during the fall and winter seasons, this condition is brought upon by the seasonal changes in daylight. This condition causes immense changes in mood, more negative thinking patterns, and causes a lack of enjoyment in normal, day-to-day activities.
What’s The Deal With Seasonal Depression?
But why does seasonal depression only occur during specific times of the year? Seasonal depression is often caused by the brain’s hormonal response to changing daylight hours, affecting the melatonin and serotonin chemicals that work to regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycle, mood, and energy. The brain typically produces higher amounts of melatonin during the fall and winter seasons, causing a person to feel more sleepy and less energetic, while the serotonin chemicals responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being are decreased, ultimately causing depression.
So why does it affect our sleep-wake cycle? Researchers looking into this phenomena have found that seasonal depression and our sleep-wake cycles are intricately connected to our circadian rhythm, influencing how our brains respond to changes outside of ourselves and causing hormonal changes that affect how much energy we have, how we control our thought patterns, and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
How Psychologists Can Treat Seasonal Depression
Because the winter months are upon us, it’s particularly important to pay attention to mood changes, energy levels, and sleep cycles. If you suffer from seasonal depression, then know that there are treatments that can help you during this time. For people with seasonal depression, there are many ways it can be treated, including:
- Light Therapy: The value of light is immeasurable, and getting more light during your day through light therapy can be an excellent way to reverse these symptoms. Special lightboxes can be used at your desk or at the tabletop before waking up for the day to help relieve symptoms and are known to be just as effective as antidepressant medication.
- Light Exposure: If you’re able to, getting some outside time during the day for at least 30 minutes can also provide you with sufficient amounts of sunlight to help relieve your symptoms and regulate your circadian rhythms.
- Medication: Antidepressant medications, when light therapy or talk therapy doesn’t work, can help boost serotonin and control melatonin amounts to help you regulate your mood and energy levels.
Most of all, finding a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist that understands your condition and can help you find solutions can be one of the best methods you can use to treat seasonal depression. Speaking with a therapist can not only provide you with solutions for your seasonal depression but can also bring you a greater sense of understanding to yourself, those around you and help you experience life better.