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Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression

Some people enjoy winter’s dazzling snow-powdered landscape, while others find its shorter days and bone-chilling temperatures unbearable. Unfortunately, the coldest season of the year can negatively affect your mental health. Many people experience seasonal depression but often don’t know it. So, if seasonal changes have you in the dumps, here is what you can do to increase your energy level and improve your mood.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is related to seasonal change. It is more common among women and individuals living in the north, where daylight hours are shorter in the winter.

Generally, depressive symptoms start in the late fall and early winter and go away during the spring and summer. Less often, episodes of depression happen in the spring or early summer.

Your low mood may last for two weeks or more, and you may lose interest in social activities. You may also experience thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness.

Seasonal depression should not be confused with “winter blues.” Winter blues symptoms are often mild and are typically related to something specific, like reminders of absent loved ones. Unlike seasonal depression, winter blues usually clear up on their own and do not affect your ability to complete your day-to-day tasks.

Post-Partum Depression 

The feelings of worry, unhappiness, and exhaustion you sometimes experience during pregnancy or the first 2 weeks after having a baby are common. But, if your mood changes or feelings of sadness are severe or last longer than 2 weeks, you may be experiencing perinatal depression.

Many perinatal depression symptoms are similar to those of seasonal affective disorder, so be sure to follow up with your doctor.

How can SAD affect me during pregnancy or postpartum? 

Untreated seasonal depression increases your risk for pregnancy complications like: 

  • C-section birth
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Low birth weight for baby
  • Premature birth
  • Suicide

Seasonal depression should not be taken lightly, especially since it impacts your and your baby’s health. 

What Causes Seasonal Depression?

Experts don’t know the exact causes of seasonal depression, but many ideas exist:

Change in brain chemical: Research shows that people with SAD may have lowered serotonin (a brain chemical) activity. Serotonin helps to regulate your mood.

Change in biological clock: When there is less sunlight, your biological clock shifts. This internal clock controls your mood, sleep, and hormones. Because of the change, you cannot adjust to the shorter days and feel out of step with your daily activities. This may lead to sleep, mood, and behavior changes.

Too little Vitamin D: Sunlight helps produce vitamin D. So, having less sun during winter days can lower your vitamin D and affect your mood.

Change in melatonin levels: Seasonal changes may upset your body’s melatonin level. Melatonin plays a crucial role in maintaining your mood and sleep cycle.

What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression symptoms may start mild but can worsen.

Winter symptoms may include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Oversleeping
  • Overeating, specifically having a craving for carbohydrates
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having difficulty focusing
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

Summer symptoms may include:

  • Tension and restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Episodes of violent behavior
  • Trouble sleeping

How do I Manage my Seasonal Depression? 

Managing seasonal depression is not always easy, so be kind to yourself. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to explore possible causes of your symptoms. Often, seasonal depression is part of a more complex mental health issue. So, managing your condition may require a combination of treatment options like:

Light therapy: Being exposed to bright light daily and using a special lamp makes up for less natural sunshine in the darker months and may help treat SAD.

Medicine: Your healthcare provider may recommend medicine to manage your symptoms. These medications can significantly improve your mood. Your medicine may be prescribed alone or in addition to light therapy.

More Vitamin D: Your provider may encourage you to take a vitamin D supplement every day to help improve your mood.

Get Outside: More exposure to sunlight can help improve your feelings and mental health. So, open your blinds to increase the amount of sun that enters your home. Also, go outside during daylight hours to soak up the sun.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): With CBT, you work with a mental health expert during a limited number of sessions. Your sessions focus on replacing negative thoughts about the season with more positive ones. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy produces the longest-lasting effects in treating seasonal depression.

Peer Support Groups: Talking with others going through a similar experience can provide comfort. And that’s why Pickles & Ice cream offers support groups where you can share your feelings in a safe space. Our online Peer Support Groups meet on many days and times to accommodate busy schedules. (Note: our Peer Support Groups are NOT an alternative to therapy or medical treatment).

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 right away or go to the nearest hospital emergency room for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255), the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or 9-8-8, and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline live chat is available if you are looking for additional help.

Improving Your Mood

Seasonal changes leave you in a funk, but with support and the right treatment plan, you can better manage your mood and mental health all year.

Blog Writer: Janelle King, MPH, BSN, RN
Blog Reviewer: Dr. Krista Mincey, MPH, Dr.PH, MCHES

  1. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologist, Screening for Perinatal Depression, 2018
  2. American Psychiatric Association, What is Peripartum Depression? 2022
  3. Cleveland Clinic, What’s the Difference Between the ‘Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD)? 2018
  4. Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), 2022
  5. National Library of Medicine, Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2017
  6. National Institute of Mental Health, Perinatal Depression, n.d
  7. National Institute of Health, Beat the Winter Blues: Shedding Light on Seasonal Sadness, 2013
  8. National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder, n.d.
  9. Providence Health and Services, Managing Seasonal Depression during Pregnancy, 2017
  10. The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2022
  11. The Nemours Foundation, Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2022
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