It's that time of the year again. It's cold, it's overcast, it's windy... and it goes on for what feels like a lifetime. For many people, this time of year brings on more than less-than-desirable weather: it brings on a deep and difficult sadness. Seasonal depression effects somewhere between 10-20% of the population in North America, but what is it exactly? And, more importantly, how do you cope with it?
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression (also known as seasonal affective disorder, or "SAD") is a mood disorder that is brought on or heightened during the winter season. Those who battle with seasonal depression do not typically experience the symptoms during the rest of the year, which is what distinguishes it most from other depressive mood disorders. These symptoms can vary in both nature and severity, but typically speak to a general lack of energy and motivation. Having difficulty waking up in the morning, oversleeping, overeating, low energy, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, and general withdrawal from one's friends and family are all signs and symptoms of seasonal depression.
What causes it?
There are a number of different theories as to what causes the onset of seasonal depression. Some argue that it is an evolutionary relic of human behaviour from the period of human history marked by hunter-scavenger living. While food was scarce (or at least more difficult to acquire) during the winter season, a tendency toward low mood during the winter months would have been an adaptive mechanism of the body to reduce the need for calorie intake. Another theory is that the dim light and greater periods of darkness one is exposed to during the winter causes the body to produce larger quantities of melatonin, which in turn makes one more tired more often.
- A commonly prescribed treatment for seasonal depression is light based therapy. Companies such as Northern Light Technologies build indoor light fixtures of varying sizes that produce bright light intended to simulate the sun. Sitting in front of these lights for relatively short periods of time each day (usually ranging from 30-60 minutes at a time) can help alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression, increasing overall energy levels.
- Force yourself to be active! Though your body may be telling you to do the complete opposite, it is important try your best to move around. Even if this just means getting up and doing some stretches or walking to the grocery store, putting your body in motion can have a significant and positive effect on your overall mood.
- Whenever you get the chance, expose yourself to natural sunlight. Though this time of year is quite overcast, try and take advantage of any and all moments of sunshine! Working near a window or even zipping outside your door to stand in the sun for a few minutes can make a world of difference.
- Remember that you are what you eat. It's no secret that even at the best of times, a healthy diet has a significant impact on how your body operates and how you feel as a result. Be mindful of what you are eating, and try to eat nutritious and fresh foods high in vitamins such as vitamin D and vitamin C.
Who can you talk to?
One of the most important things to remember when facing the effects of seasonal depression is that you are not alone. There are people you can speak to, and communities that exist with the sole purpose of connecting those who suffer from the same difficulties. The following forums are a few examples of online spaces and communities that seek to act both as an information resource, as well as a place to exchange experiences, thoughts, and words of support for those who struggle with seasonal depression.
- Daily Strength- Seasonal Affective Disorder Support Group
- Seasonal Affective Disorder Support Group
- The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association
- MD Junction- Seasonal Affective Disorder Support Group
- Mood Disorders Canada- Seasonal Affective Disorder Forum