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Understanding Seasonal Depression

To quote one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.” Some people love winter in the Midwest. We get to experience the beautiful snow and celebrate the holiday season. Others, however, dislike winter. We view it as getting colder, we notice that we don’t see the sun as often, and we start to realize just how warm and comfortable our bed truly is.

Whether you enjoy the winter or not, you may begin to notice a change in yourself when the seasons begin to change. You may begin oversleeping but remain tired throughout the day. You may be feeling a lack of motivation or feel uninterested in the things that made you happy just a couple of months ago. You may be experiencing depressed mood or just overall low energy. Perhaps you may be facing a consistent case of the Mondays, if you will. The “winter blues” happen and are common, but if you find that they are disrupting your life, you may be facing something more.

Experiencing an increase in sadness and change in mood with season changes is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The American Psychiatric Association describes SAD as a type of depression where symptoms occur during seasonal changes. Although most people experience seasonal depression during the fall and winter months, some experience it during the spring and summer.

In addition to the changes of the season, I have had clients come to me experiencing seasonal depression due to a significant event that occurred in the past. For example, I once had a client who would face depression every time the leaves changed color. We explored if there was any significance to the fall season, and they disclosed that their friend had passed away in the fall four years prior. Through talk therapy, we discovered that fall weather would trigger feelings of sadness that stemmed from the loss of their friend and were able to manage their depressed mood for the next year.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Seasonal Affective Disorder’s symptoms fully include:

  • Feeling of sadness or depressed mood
  • Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide

If your symptoms become overwhelming and disrupt your daily functioning, you may be experiencing more than just sadness. It is possible that what you are experiencing is minor, but it is important to confront your depression before it gets more severe. Luckily, treating Seasonal Affective Disorder is possible.

There are several strategies that you can utilize to help decrease symptoms of depression. For example, exercising regularly and practicing relaxation and meditation have been shown to improve overall mood, as well as decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, it is valuable to avoid using drugs or alcohol, as they can heighten negative emotions and increase symptoms.

These strategies may work for some, but they are not one size fits all. It may be helpful to connect with a therapist in order to talk through your experience and work together to find strategies that work best for you. If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or other forms of depression, contact Symmetry Counseling to get matched with one of our skilled clinicians.

For more details about Seasonal Affective Disorder, please view the American Psychiatric Association’s website here.

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