Seasonal Depression

We’ve all been there, caught somewhere amidst the hype of the holidays.  It could be the ever growing crescendo of gift giving, holiday parties, delectably delicious (but oh-so-bad-for-you) treats, family obligations and that overall sense of joy and togetherness.  Maybe it’s the crushing end-of-the-year deadlines, family dysfunction or painful loss, longer-colder-darker days, or that overwhelming pressure for everything to be Merry & Bright and perfect.

And then, just like that, it’s over.  December has passed.  Some of us just meld back into routine or we might feel relief, we’ve survived another holiday season.  Some of us are reminiscent, maybe the holidays bring to life a kind of charm we wish survived all year.  Some of us, though, just feel wrapped in a thick, heavy blanket of sadness…and we settle in for a long, dark, painful winter.

Feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression are known to rise around the holidays, but what if it’s more than that? Maybe your funk started before all the holiday hoopla did.  Or possibly, you just can’t get your groove back and the holiday season is only a distant memory.

Seasonal Depression, which is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or Winter Depression, is a real thing. Have you ever noticed that at the dawn of spring, with the tiny blades of green peeking through the dirt, you instinctively feel a small burst of hope?  Or on an overcast and rainy day, some of that silver-lining falls away?  The weather and season has the distinct capability of affecting our mood.  While this often only signals mild and temporary mood alterations, some individuals can settle into a rhythm of seasonal depression.

So, what exactly are we talking about here?  The Mayo Clinic offers the following definition: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.  If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.  Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Mental Health America sheds a little light on some possible causes:

As seasons change there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns.  This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules.

Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, has been linked to SAD.  This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark.  Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.*

In the end, what it comes down to is the possibility that the winter is long, cold, and dark.  The days are short and the nights are long.  That in itself can be enough to kick our body out of its natural rhythm and cause us to experience seasonal depression.

Some of the most common symptoms may include:

  • Emotional irritability
  • Loss of concentration
  • Tiredness or oversleeping
  • Decreased activity level
  • Craving for comfort foods, usually high in carbs
  • Weight gain

You are at a higher risk of being affected by seasonal depression if:

  • You’re female – this does not mean that men can’t be affected
  • You’re younger, specifically between the ages of 18-30
  • You are currently suffering from another form of depression
  • There is a family history of seasonal or other depression

We all have days when life gets the better of us and we’re feeling a little down and out.  But if you’ve noticed a repetitive rhythm of sinking into sadness that just isn’t going away, please don’t brush it off as the holiday blues and feel like you need to handle it alone.

Prevention is key, so try to live as healthy of a lifestyle as you can:

  • Get good nutrition
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get outside.  Soak up those rays, even if it’s only through the clouds; your body will thank you for the natural exposure to the sunlight.
  • Talk to someone.  You don’t have to do this by yourself.
  • See your doctor or medical provider.  If you feel like it’s more than just a few tough days, your doctor can help get you back on the track to good mental health.

For an extra read also check out:

Seasonal Affective Disorder


*Information from © Mental Health America