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  • The Vindicator

The Winter Blues

A look into seasonal depression and the ways to cope with it during the fall and winter months

Written by Sheila Kiss

As the seasons change to the cold, dark months of fall and winter, many may begin to experience symptoms of depression because of the changes within our environments. This phenomenon is classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). While this disorder can occur during summer months, it most commonly begins in the late fall and continues through winter. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 5% of adults in America are affected by SAD, with 10% to 20% experiencing milder cases. While many may downplay seasonal depression as a simple case of the “winter blues,” it can be far more serious and debilitating than simply feeling sad.


The cause of seasonal depression is not primarily the changes in weather that occur during fall and winter. The root cause of the disorder actually has to do with the sun and the changes in daylight hours.

While many may downplay seasonal depression as a simple case of the “winter blues,” it can be far more serious and debilitating than simply feeling sad.

“It’s a pretty mild form of persistent sadness or melancholy that happens in climates where there is a shortage of natural light and sun as the primary cause of that,” said Natalie Jernigan, therapist and founder of Center for Counseling Solutions.


This lack of sunlight leads to a decrease in the mood-regulating hormone serotonin and also increases the release of melatonin earlier in the day, leading to changes in mood and overall mental well-being. Our biological clocks shifting also affects our moods by making it more difficult to adjust to changes in the daylight hours, according to the Cleveland Clinic.


While the general population can be affected by these changes in less severe ways, the combination of these environmental changes, alongside other factors, can lead to more intense and serious cases of SAD.

A variety of lifestyle and daily habit changes are also beneficial for treating symptoms, one being engaging in regular exercise.

“That person who is experiencing seasonal affective disorder may have other co-occurring stressors that magnify or exacerbate the symptoms,” Jernigan said.


People who are already struggling with mental disorders and health problems may also be more greatly affected by the disorder and changes in the environment.


“If there are other factors with relationships or more intensity in mood related problems or with thinking styles that impact mood, seasonal affective disorder may turn into something that becomes more of a clinical depression,” Jernigan said.


Symptoms of seasonal depression can vary depending on the person. Some of the common symptoms can include feelings of general sadness and anxiety, changes in appetite and sleep schedule, and irritability. According to Jernigan, lower levels of motivation and aversion to socializing and doing activities we typically enjoy doing are prevalent in cases of seasonal depression as well. The symptoms of seasonal depression can be more severe and mild, as is the case for many mental disorders.


“Somebody who is just a little bit more blase when it comes to changes may not have a high degree of impact from seasonal affective problems,” Jernigan said.

Simple lifestyle changes and professional help when needed can help you find light in the darker days.

Another symptom of seasonal depression is a craving for carbs and sweets, according to psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal.


While all these changes and feelings can become quite difficult to cope with, a variety of treatments and remedies can help with symptoms in both more serious and more mild cases. One proven treatment for cases of clinical seasonal depression is light box therapy.


“There are some light boxes designed for treating seasonal depression, that would give the eyes a simulation of more light and that can be helpful just in managing the amount of light intake that a person has,” Jernigan said.


According to Healthline, light boxes can be beneficial in a number of ways for those suffering from symptoms of SAD, including realigning your biological clock, activating serotonin, and regulating sleep patterns. Using light therapy alongside other medical treatments like going to talk therapy can be beneficial for those suffering throughout the fall and winter months.


A variety of lifestyle and daily habit changes are also beneficial for treating symptoms, one being engaging in regular exercise.


“Any element of taking care of one's physical health, like regular exercise, increasing cardiovascular workouts to at least 30 minutes per session, three times a week, tends to manage any sign or symptom of depression, whether it is seasonal or otherwise,” Jernigan said.


Exercise is a key component of feeling better and can be used not only to release “feel-good” endorphins but also to take your mind off of feelings of sadness or stress. Additionally, exercise offers the added benefits of feeling good physically and mentally by taking the opportunity to get outside and expose yourself to natural light in an organic way. While it may be difficult to find motivation to increase daily exercise, starting off small and easing into exercise by simply going for a walk can help.


Another lifestyle adjustment to help with symptoms is regulating your sleep schedule by adjusting the time you go to sleep and wake up, in order to maximize the amount of daily light intake.


“If one is going to bed earlier in the evening, like 9 or 10, and waking up closer to sunrise, that might help with managing the symptoms,” Jernigan said.


Other methods for treating seasonal depression involve simple changes including prioritizing spending time with family and friends, doing activities you enjoy, meditating, taking vitamin D and journaling.


It is important to note that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to coping with symptoms of seasonal depression and that many may experience more mild symptoms where simple coping mechanisms will do the job. In more severe and clinically diagnosed cases, a combination of remedies may be necessary, and it is important to take into consideration whether a professional’s help is needed. Fall and winter can be a difficult time for many with the addition of stress from school and holidays, but there are ways to get through and rise above the affects the changes in our environment cause. Simple lifestyle changes and professional help when needed can help you find light in the darker days.


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