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Seasonal Depression

depression

“Depression” as a broad topic is somewhat familiar in our culture for a variety of reasons. We know the telltale signs: feeling “sad/empty/hopeless” most of the day nearly every day, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, difficulty thinking or concentrating, fatigue, changes in sleep, and so on. What can sometimes catch people off guard – especially if they don’t normally struggle with depression – is how the progression of one season to the next has an impact on their well-being. 

The DSM-V has a specifier for Major Depression with seasonal patterns. This means there is an observed connection between the symptoms of depression and the time of year (Eg: depression always occurs in the fall and always ends in the spring). If this happens over the years more often than not, you may be dealing with a seasonal pattern of depression. 

There are a number of reasons why fall and winter may be difficult for some people. I’ll highlight three contributing factors as well as three things that help here: 

Three contributing factors: 

  1. Less sunlight:

The sky gets cloudy, it gets dark earlier, and exposure to sunlight can have a major impact on mental health. Part of that may be linked to the body’s diminished ability to produce vitamin D without as much sunlight. As the days get darker and drearier, many people notice changes in their mood. 

  1. Colder Weather:

Along with less sunlight, it’s also colder out, which means people aren’t spending as much time outdoors. For a lot of people that can mean the loss of seasonal hobbies, outdoor exercise, certain sports, etc. Things that were good coping skills during the summer might not be as feasible as the temperature cools. 

  1. Holidays:

For the most part, people tend to feel positively toward memories surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc., but for a lot of people, those memories might also include death, conflict in the family system, estranged family members, or even times of isolation and loneliness. All of these factors can make the holidays a difficult time. 

Three things that help: 

  1. Therapy Lights:

For those who notice changes in their mood as a result of less sunlight, there are a number of different lights that can be set up in the home that attempt to mimic sunlight and have made a big difference for people with similar struggles. Many of these lights can be purchased on Amazon for $30-40. 

  1. Self-care:

Spending time focusing on what brings a sense of wellness is helpful. If that means sitting at home under a blanket with some hot cocoa and a good book, go for it. It could also mean focusing on the hobbies that are still available, or substituting for the ones that aren’t (Eg: The neighborhood pool is closed, but the gym has a pool, so we’ll use that one. Or it’s too cold for outdoor sports, so we’ll get online and play e-sports with friends). 

  1. Community:

A natural result of colder, darker days is that it requires more effort to get out and be around others. Whether it’s church, small groups, social clubs, a weekly game night, or even calling someone or writing a letter, getting out of the house and around other people helps us meet our basic human need for connection with others. 

If seasonal depression has been a struggle for you, we want you to know that you aren’t alone and that we are available if you need us. You can read our therapist bios here, and see our approach to therapy here. If you haven’t been to counseling before, you may want to check out this post on FAQ’s of therapy. This guide can give you a realistic idea of what to expect from a counselor and how long your treatment might be. If you think you might be interested, we encourage you to schedule in advance, as the fall and winter tend to be our busy seasons. When you’re ready, if you decide to reach out, our intake form is available at the bottom of every page on our website in the section labeled “Let’s talk”. 

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