Seasonal Depression: How to Combat It

As we inch closer to the end of 2022, you may notice a shift in people’s energies. The harsh, gloomy weather of the Fall and Winter months seem to have a major influence on people’s moods. You’re not just imagining things: roughly 10% of Americans report suffering from Seasonal Depression every year.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of clinical depression regularly triggered by the change of seasons. There are reports of SAD in the Spring and Summer, however, it is overwhelmingly more common in the Fall and Winter. Why? Experts say that it has to do with our limited access to sunlight.

The extended periods of darkness naturally occurring during this time of year offset our internal clocks and negatively impact people’s moods, eating habits, and sleep patterns. Statistically, women are at least 2X more likely to suffer from seasonal depression than men. Also, the further North you live, the more likely you will be affected.

You may have SAD if you experience:

  • A change in appetite (usually an increase)
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Social withdrawal
  • A lack of energy
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies

How To Treat Seasonal Depression

According to a five-year study conducted at the University Of Vermont, SAD expert Dr. Kelly Rohan says seasonal depression usually rears its ugly head between October and November, reaching its peak by January and February. Before we find ourselves in the thick of it, here are some healthy, practical ways to help you get through the long road ahead:

1.   Light

The extended periods of darkness in the Fall and Winter send mixed messages to our bodies that confuse our internal clocks and trigger unnatural levels of melatonin (a chemical produced in the brain that helps humans go to sleep.) When this happens, we go into hibernation mode, where we want to rest more often. Plus, since it gets darker sooner, our busy work schedules make it hard to catch the daylight.

If you’re trying to combat seasonal depression, soak up as much sunlight as possible. Try to spare some time for a nature walk and get outdoors for at least 30 minutes daily. The natural light exposure boosts serotonin levels, which will naturally uplift your mood.

If getting outside isn’t practical, give light therapy a try. Light therapy involves sitting near a special lightbox that simulates daylight, helping you stay awake. Experts recommend sitting near a UV-free lightbox with 10,000 lux for 20 – 30 minutes. The trick is to do it at the same time every morning over an extended period (usually until Spring.)

2.   Connect With People

People who are depressed tend to become more withdrawn. The lack of energy and low moods can make it hard to want to connect with people. However, experts say being social is a great way to combat depression.

One of the most recommended treatments for SAD is talk therapy. Having someone to confide in about your problems makes it easier to cope. However, if speaking to a therapist isn’t an option, the next best thing is to connect with a loved one. The exchange of energy you receive from a genuine human connection can help you recharge and pull you out of an emotional funk. When times are tough, it helps to have a safe space to air out your feelings. Connecting with people can provide a much-needed escape and help you see things from a positive perspective.

3. Diet

The vitamins and nutrients we receive from a well-balanced diet are good for our brain health. To take things a step further, we can consume foods containing the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for the production of serotonin. By increasing serotonin levels, we can fight off the sluggish, low-energy symptoms of SAD.

Lean proteins such as eggs, chicken, turkey, and salmon are excellent sources of tryptophan. So are soy-based foods like tofu and soy milk. Tryptophan can also be found in nuts, seeds, pineapples, dairy-based yogurt, cheese, and milk, dark leafy greens like spinach, and fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.

4. Exercise

Exercise is highly recommended for combating symptoms of depression. Exercise increases your heart rate and releases chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood boosters. Research suggests the best kind of exercise to treat depression is aerobics. High-energy activities like running, swimming, hiking, dancing, and cycling will pick your heart rate up, increasing your blood flow and making you feel more energized and alert. You’ll also experience a surge of dopamine, a natural destresser that helps boost your mood.

Suffering from depression is a mentally tough battle, but you don’t have to face it alone. If you think you may have seasonal depression, speak with your doctor to see how these tips can work best for you so that you can prepare yourself for the long road ahead. Don’t worry. We’re in this together.


Photo: Pexels

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