Strategies for Managing the Effects of Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that occurs in a person at the same time each year. Often, it accompanies the major shifts in regular weather patterns, daylight hours, and other similar phenomena that happen when the seasons change.
Today, we are going to review common SAD symptoms and discuss some ways that you can cope with them.
Before we begin, if you are currently feeling depressed and experiencing suicidal thoughts, please stop reading and call 911, go to your nearest emergency room, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or message the Crisis Text Line by sending “HELLO” to 741741. Your safety is extremely important to us, and we want you to receive the help that you need.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of seasonal depression can vary based on the season. They are generally divided into three categories: winter-pattern SAD and summer-pattern SAD.
General SAD symptoms can affect individuals experiencing either winter or summer variants. It is also important to note that not everyone will experience all symptoms of seasonal depression.
As the NIMH states, general SAD symptoms include:
- Chronic feelings of general depression
- General decreased levels of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in appetite, weight gain, and/or weight loss
- Sleeping problems
- Feelings of sluggishness or agitation
- Experiencing low energy levels
- General feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Experiencing difficulty concentrating on tasks at hand
- Dealing with frequent suicidal thoughts or death in general
NIMH identifies these additional symptoms as specific to those with winter-pattern SAD:
- Hypersomnia – oversleeping
- Excessive eating, specifically carbohydrates
- Gaining weight
- Experiencing a period of social withdrawal akin to “hibernating”
Those with summer-pattern SAD, as stated by the NIMH, may also exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep
- Low appetite, resulting in weight loss
- Feeling restless or agitated
- Experiencing bouts of anxiety
- Violent behavior
Coping Strategies for Seasonal Depression
When you are experiencing these feelings of depression, it can often feel difficult to motivate yourself and enjoy this season in your life. Fortunately, there are some promising strategies for coping with these feelings. They include but are by no means limited to:
Medication and Therapeutics
For certain individuals, medical or therapeutic intervention may be necessary to relieve their depression symptoms. For those with either type of SAD, prescription antidepressants or light therapy might prove effective.
Light therapy utilizes a lightbox that mimics natural sunlight. The person receiving the therapy sits near the box for a period of time. The light can help correct any dysfunctions in brain chemistry that might be caused by the changing seasons.
Counseling and Psychotherapy
Counseling and psychotherapy services allow the person experiencing depression to talk about their feelings with a knowledgeable and objective professional. For most people, the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) framework proves effective when dealing with seasonal depression symptoms.
Using CBT, a professional counselor or psychotherapist can help you deconstruct the negative thoughts and behaviors that you are struggling with, challenge them, and rewrite a more positive narrative that you can apply to your everyday life. CBT can also help you learn how to cope with your SAD symptoms in productive ways and manage stress to avoid depressive triggers.
In some cases, treating seasonal feelings of depression can be done by adjusting your lifestyle habits during the times of the year where you are likely to experience these feelings. Changing your routine or pursuing new activities that you have not done before can bring excitement and much-needed emotional relief.
There are many ways that you can adjust your lifestyle to cope with seasonal depression. Some popular ones include:
- Taking a vacation to a place with the opposite climate. For example, someone with summer-pattern SAD might appreciate a trip to Alaska or Canada in the summer and another person with winter-pattern SAD might enjoy a flight down to a Caribbean island.
- Engage in new social activities to prevent isolation and enjoy time away from your home.
- Try a new hobby or activity to occupy your time and give you something to direct your energy toward. This can be anything from starting a new TV series to crafting projects, etc.
- Manage your stress through healthy channels like exercising, deep breathing, and meditation.
- Practice self-care by getting a good night’s sleep, keeping up with personal hygiene, and eating lots of healthy foods.
- Abstaining from mind-altering and potentially addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Get Help Coping with Seasonal Depression in South Florida
At Compassion Behavioral Health, we work directly with the communities of South Florida to help individuals overcome a variety of mental health challenges to live happier and more fulfilling lives. If you are experiencing seasonal depression and would like to speak with someone, please reach out online about mental health treatment or call us at (844) 999-0874.