People often speak of holiday or winter blues around this time of year as colder temperatures and gloomy weather temporarily change our environment. Feelings of sadness can also stem during the winter holiday season from the loss of a loved one, navigating changes in relationships or traditions, or feelings of isolation. But if you or a loved one find that year after year, this season is always hard; seasonal depression may be at work.
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing of the seasons. It returns each year, beginning and ending around the same time, and often impacts a person's functioning.
What causes seasonal affective disorder?
Our mental health can be impacted by the amount of sunlight exposure we receive. During the winter, the sun is in the sky for shorter spans of time, which decreases our exposure to sunlight. The spectrum of light we receive in the winter also narrows and removes a therapeutic spectrum of light that many people desperately need. These changes can leave some people feeling starved for sunlight.
The relationship between sunlight and emotional regulation
We all have chemical messengers in our brain that help to regulate body functions such as sleep, memory, and metabolism. One very important chemical messenger is serotonin. Seratonin helps to stabilize our mood, feelings of wellbeing, and happiness.
Seratonin is produced through several mini-factories in our brain. One such factory is located within the eye. As our bodies absorb and process sunlight, light comes through the retina of the eye and generates serotonin in our bodies. Some folks are more dependent on the retina serotonin factory than others, which can put them at greater risk of depression when the seasons change.
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder can present in several different ways. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms lasting for more than two weeks should be evaluated by a professional. If this is something you can identify with, find comfort in knowing that you aren't imagining it. You aren't failing at what life is throwing at you.
What helps seasonal affective disorder?
Light therapy, talk therapy, medications, and Vitamin D supplements have all been known to help with seasonal affective disorder. If symptoms last longer than two weeks, reach out. North Range Behavioral Health can help you figure out what the cause is and how to stabilize symptoms.
Call 970.347.2120 to set up an appointment with a North Range therapist or check out these resources to learn more.
- Greeley Tribune - Taking the SAD out of your seasons: How to combat seasonal affective disorder
- KFKA Mornings with Gail - Micaela Sanchez and Gail Fallen talk about seasonal depression and how you can treat it
- Cleveland Clinic - Seasonal depression
- Mayo Clinic - Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light therapy box
- NIMH - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): More Than the Winter Blues