Health

How to Manage Seasonal Depression

woman sitting on ground writing
It's the middle of January, and you haven't seen the sun in weeks. The skies are gray, and so is your mood. You're moving through life as if you were underwater, feeling groggy and isolated from others. You know something's wrong — but what? You'd give anything to be able to emerge from your funk and get your mojo back.

If this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often referred to as seasonal depression. It's not uncommon during the darker, winter months of the year, and many people struggle to carry on as they usually would when they're suffering from it.

Let's look at how to deal with seasonal depression and what you can do to stave off the feelings it causes.

What is seasonal depression?

Simply put, seasonal depression is an illness that causes feelings of depression during the winter months. It begins and ends at about the same time each year, coinciding with colder temperatures and less sunlight. Occasionally, someone will suffer from reverse SAD, becoming depressed during the spring or summer months. Either way, the illness starts slowly, and symptoms build as time passes.

What causes seasonal depression?

Scientists are still studying the causes of SAD, but a few possibilities have been identified. Levels of two chemicals, serotonin and melatonin, are believed to be involved. Both impact mood, and their presence in the body can be affected by the amount of sunlight the person experiences. Reduced sunlight can also disrupt your biological clock — the circadian rhythm — which can upset your sleep cycle and cause depression.

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What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?

The signs of seasonal depression are similar to other forms of depression and may include the following:

  • Lack of interest in activities and projects you usually enjoy
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • A desire to eat more or a sense that eating will improve your mood, perhaps accompanied by weight gain
  • Listlessness or general sadness that doesn't seem to stem from a reason.
  • Low energy; a need for more sleep than usual

If you experience some of these symptoms, you may want to look into seasonal depression treatment options. A visit to your doctor can be an excellent first step to rule out any physical cause for your depression.

What helps seasonal depression?

If you're overwhelmed trying to understand how to treat seasonal depression or how to help someone with seasonal depression, don't despair. There are good treatment options, as well as tips for seasonal depression: 

  • Light therapy: Frequently used for SAD, the patient sits in front of a lightbox with a very bright light every day for half an hour. 
  • Vitamin D: Some people have found taking vitamin D pills helpful; there's some clinical evidence that it can alleviate symptoms.
  • Talk therapy: Group or individual sessions with a mental health professional can help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven effective in teaching sufferers how to appropriately handle negative moods.
  • Medication: Drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been used successfully on depressed individuals, and a medicine called bupropion has also been approved for SAD.
  • Exercise: A brisk walk, gym workout, or other exercise may help lift your mood and put you in a better space to fight the doldrums.

Are there cures for seasonal depression?

There's no one definite cure for seasonal depression. Research is ongoing to help medical professionals understand SAD and determine possible treatments to alleviate it. If you're looking at how to treat seasonal depression, your first stop should be your primary care doctor's office. They can refer you to the appropriate therapist, if necessary. Or, if your case is mild, they may suggest that you begin a course of vitamin D or purchase an inexpensive lightbox online, available without a prescription and designed for SAD. Look for one that exposes you to 10,000 lux of light for the best response. 

How to avoid seasonal depression

What do you do when you know you're prone to seasonal depression? One of the best health tips for seasonal changes is to take good care of yourself: eat healthily, get enough sleep, and have a consistent exercise routine. 

That may help alleviate SAD, and it's a good idea generally for the sake of your health. Using a lightbox or dawn simulator, which wakes you up with slowly increasing light as the weather turns cold, may also help you avoid symptoms. 

Consider life insurance to ease your concerns

Although life insurance isn't a topic you may consider when suffering from seasonal depression, consider that life insurance coverage can protect your family — effectively easing one of the worries that may trouble you if you're struggling with SAD. 

You can learn more about how Ethos works, as well as about the life insurance free look period, at Ethos Life. If you're thinking about purchasing a policy, you can also easily assess your need for life insurance online and learn how to find an affordable policy.

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