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How To Deal with Seasonal Depression

Updated on October 30, 2012
Seasonal depression might not be just a winter problem.
Seasonal depression might not be just a winter problem. | Source

The "winter blues" hit almost all of us at one time or another. And having a low period during the summer isn't unheard of. But when depressed feelings regularly take hold for a whole season, it may be a signal of a bigger problem.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that impacts between 4% and 6% of the U.S. population ("Seasonal Affective Disorder " appearing in the Journal Psychiatry ). But people allover the world have suffered from this issue.

Winter blues that last could be a sign of SAD
Winter blues that last could be a sign of SAD | Source


No specific cause has been cited, but changes in the chemical serotonin and the hormone melatonin in the body (which effect mood and sleep patterns) play a role. Several lifestyle factors have been associated with SAD as well:

  1. Geography: People who live in locations far north or south can react to the changes in sunlight during certain months.
  2. Gender: Women are diagnosed more often than men, but men can display more severe symptoms.
  3. Underlying mental health issue: Bipolar disorder or other types of depression only intensify the situation.

Though SAD effects most people during late fall and winter months, in some cases it can show up in late spring and summer. The symptoms differ for each time frame.

Symptoms of fall/winter SAD:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, craving for carbs
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Symptoms of spring/summer SAD:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Becoming Aware

Since it shares symptoms with other types of depression and even other medical problems, SAD can be hard to diagnose. But if you think you could be dealing with this problem, ask yourself a couple of questions:

1. Have I experienced bouts of symptoms at the same time of year for at least two consecutive years?

2. Does the feeling of depression lift at other times of the year?

Seeking Help

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder is a process, and seeing your doctor needs to be the first step. A medical professional is trained in recognizing the signs and symptoms of this issue, and can pick on things you might miss in diagnosing yourself. Along with asking you questions, the doctor may order some tests, such as blood work, to root out any underlying conditions.

Tips To A Productive Doctor's Appointment:

Have a written "diary" including your symptoms and any patterns you have noticed, and any family history of this or any other medical issues.

Bring a list of any health problems you have or are experiencing, along with the duration and severity of each.

Note any major changes or stresses going on in your life recently.

Tell the doctor about any medications you are taking.

Jot down the questions you want to address with the doctor, so you won't forget during the appointment. Don't hesitate to ask about anything that concerns you.

Approach the doctor as someone who will work with you to help. Be ready to answer any questions honestly and completely.

There is definitely hope for those who suffer from SAD.
There is definitely hope for those who suffer from SAD. | Source

Getting Treatment

A combination of some of these usually yields the most effective results.

1. Light therapy- exposure to daylight or similar wavelengths by direct sunlight,lasers, diodesor lamps. Treatment is usually set up for a specific amount oftime, and at certain times ofday. Home lamps are available, ranging in price depending on the size and strength.

2. Medications - antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac or Paxil

3. Home remedies -

  • At least 30 minutes outdoors each day, perhaps while walking or doing other exercise
  • Spending time out or by a window in the early morning (6-8 am)
  • Increasing indoor lighting
  • Setting a timer on your bedroom light to go off early
  • Keeping to a regular schedule
  • Following an exercise program
  • Adjusting the diet: complex carbs like whole grains (brown rice oroatmeal, for example) raise serotonin levels and keep moods regulated; herbal teas fill you up and avoid extra caffeine

Relief For SAD With Yoga

Check Out Other Options

  • St. Johns Wort - an herb that has been found to be effective in dealing with anxiety, depression and insomnia. Should be used under a doctor's supervision
  • Kava, known as intoxicating pepper or kava root. Has been used to decrease anxiety and stress. Should not be used longer than three months without a doctor's recommendation. Possible side effects include upset stomach, itching, jaundice.
  • Accupuncture - (a Chinese technique that applies needles to certain pressure points on the body) has been shown through clinical trials started in the 1990's to be helpful when used in combination with medication or psychotherapy.
  • Vitamin D - studies as recently as 2010 have found a link between increased levels of this vitamin and easing of depression symptoms. No set ideal amount to aim for has been officially recommended. Sources: fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel; small amounts in egg yolks and cheese. OJ and milk can be fortified with it, as well as some cereals and spreads.

Note: For further information and advice, contact:

National Organization for Seasonal Affective Disorders (NOSAD)

P.O. Box 40190

Washington, DC 20016

(correspondance is handled by mail only)

National Mental Health Association (NMHA)

1021 Prince St.

Alexandria, VA 22314-2971

Telephone: 800-969-6642


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    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Thanks! I am amazed by how many variations there are within the major area of depression. It really can hit all types of people in all places. But fortunately, there is also more help available than ever. When I was dealing with my own depression, I had to first name it as what it was, then admit that I couldn't deal with it on my own. That was hard, but was the start of my recovery.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Washington

      Heather - great information on a tricky problem. We lived in Seattle for about 23 years and I thought surely I would develop some kind of depression from all the rain but found it quite the opposite for me. But I know/knew a LOT of people who found it totally unhealthy to their well being. I can't even imagine having summer or spring seasonal depression and that is an interesting bit of information. Definitely these kinds of things are huge problems for some folks as I have seen it first hand. The important thing (as you point out) is to get help and be specific about your symptoms.

    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Thanks so much, Seeker! I'm delighted to hear that she would like the info I've shared. Your friend's story is inspiring - when you're in the midst of any kind of depression it can be hard to make the changes. It's terrific that she was able to find out what works best for her!!

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      This is such an excellent hub and will be so useful to anyone who suffers from SAD. A good friend of mine does suffer from this - over the winter months - and she finally found that both light therapy and walking helped her greatly with all the symptoms, along with slight changes in her diet. Today she doesn't need anti-depressants but sticks to her walking, light therapy and diet. She would definately approve of this wonderful article! Voted up!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Heather--I really like the fact that you are giving some very specific ideas on how to talk to your doctor and how to write down information. Depression sometimes makes it hard to think clearly and quickly, so having what you want to know written down is great. Plus, I like the fact that many of your ideas are something a person could do without going to the doctor--like just trying to get more light exposure. We live in Texas, so it is hard NOT to get a lot of light exposure! But that one tip could help so many people. Voted up and useful!

    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Thank you, Shelley - that means a lot coming from someone with experience in the field!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      I have dealt with depression in the workplace,and you have covered it's many aspects very well. Voted up and interesting.

    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Thanks for the lovely comments!! I have dealt with depression myself, so this subject is close to my heart.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Well done article. You really packed this with valuable information. It is a fascinating topic, with so much more that needs to be understood. You covered so much in this article. Thanks for putting such a good hub together. Rated up, interesting, awesome, and useful!


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