Managing Depression During Winter
Seasonal changes affect physical and mental health significantly as shorter, grayer days mean less overall sun exposure. Your body uses natural light to regulate bodily functions like sleep cycle, energy levels, and mood. Furthermore, the cold may make you reluctant to get outside and be physically active, adding to the effects.
While everyone experiences the biological effects of season changes to some extent, some people have a more impactful experience than others. They develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM, the document mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions.
What Are the Symptoms of SAD?
People with SAD experience a set of symptoms during the late fall and winter months:
- Lack of energy
- Sleeping too much
- Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
- Loss of interest
- Inability to focus
- Lack of productivity
While some people have used “cute” terms to explain SAD, such as “winter blues,” SAD isn’t funny or cute. It can be exhausting and demotivating. It’s hard to function and may lead to poor job performance, struggling relationships, or worse. You can experience SAD even if you don’t normally suffer from other forms of depression.
Managing Depression During Winter
SAD depression can strip your motivation to take care of yourself, so you’ll need to use your willpower to override that urge to sink into the sofa and wait out the winter months. The good news is that when you make this push, you’ll notice that it often begins to counteract the effects of SAD. You will manage SAD in much the way you would manage depression. That begins with self-care. Self-care isn’t all fancy spas and relaxing vacations. It’s what you do on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis to care for yourself.
Exercise serves several functions. It causes the brain to release chemicals that improve the mood, increase energy levels, and improve sleep quality when it’s time to sleep. Exercise can also reduce cravings for less healthy foods and encourage you to seek out better-for-you options. In addition to boosting overall health, exercise also stimulates the production of a protein that helps the brain build new neural pathways to improve memory, learning, and cognition. People who live with depression often struggle with mental cloudiness and poor memory, so that’s a definite bonus.
The shorter winter days reduce your sun exposure and throw off your circadian rhythms, the biological clock regulating awakeness and sleep. Light therapy involves exposing yourself to bright, full-spectrum light for a set amount of time each day. This can counteract the effects of less sunlight. Randomized, controlled studies have found that as few as 20 minutes of direct light therapy can immediately improve mood and reduce other signs of depression.
Relaxation training can teach the mind to release depression by managing restless, racing, or negative thoughts so that you relax more completely when it’s time to relax and feel more productive when it’s time to get things done.
Getting Expert Help For Depression
Depression can be debilitating and require additional support. A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s ability to work, carry out usual daily activities, and have satisfying personal relationships. A combination of home self-care and treatment can help you overcome depression during winter and the effects of SAD. In addition to the methods mentioned above, a combination of medication and talk therapy may help you get a handle on these depression symptoms. If you’re suffering from depression, know that you’re not alone. We hear you, and we’re here to help. Contact Jonas Hill Hospital for help.
Jonas Hill Hospital & Clinic a division of Caldwell Memorial Hospital provides our community with safe, dignified and integrated care for adult patients experiencing an acute mental health need. We provide hope, treatment, and healing through a holistic program of evidence-based psychiatric treatment, team-based medical care, and education provided by engaging and dedicated professionals in a safe and healing environment. Contact Jonas Hill Hospital and Clinic today at (828) 394-6722 for more information.