Post written by; Jessi Erickson, MS, MFT
Winter is coming. While the cold weather poses physical threats in fictional stories, it tends to pose emotional ones in the real world. Winter presents long, cold and dark days that can bring about depressive symptoms. Have you felt this way before? If you have, you are most definitely not alone. Millions of adults in the United States experience seasonal depression, and the further one is from the equator, the more likely they are to feel its effects. Seasonal depression has an average age onset of anywhere between 20-30 years-old, but that doesn’t mean it can’t begin earlier. While the specific cause of seasonal depression is not known, studies have found low sunlight exposure can influence the serotonin levels in our brain, which aid in mood regulation. Other studies have found that individuals with seasonal depression are producing lower levels of melatonin, which is responsible for maintaining our normal sleep/wake schedule.
Maybe you have experienced seasonal depression in the past, or maybe you haven’t, but either way you can start to prepare yourself for the shift in seasons and the emotions that come with it. It is important to reflect and monitor how we are feeling in the coming weeks and months.
What are some signs and symptoms of seasonal depression to look out for?
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day (e.g. feels sad, empty, hopeless).
- Diminished pleasure or interest in the majority of activities most days, and nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain that is not purposeful or a decrease/increase in appetite.
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much.
- Psychomotor agitation or slowness nearly every day.
- Fatigue or low energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to concentrate nearly every day.
Important Side Note: Recurrent suicidal thoughts can also be a sign of seasonal or major depression. If you are experiencing recurrent thoughts of dying or suicidal ideation, please call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 988. Additional resources are attached to the end of this post.
How do I know these symptoms could be due to seasonal depression?
- If you have a depressed mood, diminished pleasure and at least three other symptoms.
- If the above symptoms you have impair your day to day life (e.g. socially or occupationally).
- If the above symptoms cannot be explained by any medical conditions or a substance.
- If, in the past, you have experienced these same symptoms during a certain time of the year that is due to a shift in seasons (e.g. Fall, Winter, Spring).
How can I prepare for seasonal depression?
- Stock up on the hobbies that bring you happiness! Perhaps you enjoy reading a good book, building a puzzle, painting/doing art projects, and/or hanging out with friends/family. Head to the bookstore, go to a craft store, or buy art supplies; anything that you know you will enjoy indoors once it starts becoming tough to do activities outside.
- Find a new hobby to learn/try! Sometimes switching it up can help too. Whether you try it by yourself or with friends/family, having a change of pace and learning a new skill can help us feel motivated.
- Start taking vitamin D supplements! We live in the midwest, therefore, the lack of sunlight affects our serotonin levels in our brains. Serotonin influences our ability to regulate moods. Get ahead of the game and start taking supplements to make up for the vitamin D that will be tough to get in our system in the darker months.
- Reach out to family and friends! It is important that when we are feeling down to not keep things bottled up inside. Invite friends or family members over to hangout with you and be honest with how you are feeling. Reaching out to people who we love and care about us can be comforting and mood improving.
- Seek professional help! If the above symptoms persist, reach out to us or other professionals in the Chicago area. As therapists, we are equipped with tools to help those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other issues that they are navigating and unsure how to proceed.
“Please remember to check with your medical provider prior to taking any supplements”
Suicide Prevention Resources:
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder
Please note that this content is for informational purposes, and not a substitute for treatment. If you are in need of mental health treatment, please seek out a provider in your area. For those located near Chicago, you may book online through our Schedule an Appointment page.