How to Avoid Seasonal Depression

If you want to know how to avoid seasonal depression, understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is crucial. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at specific times of the year, usually in winter. It’s linked to reduced sunlight, affecting mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin. Symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, and weight gain. Treatment often involves light therapy, medication, and behavioral therapy. Lifestyle changes like exercise and a balanced diet can also help.

You may hear someone refer to getting the “wintertime blues” or the “summertime blahs.” They are likely struggling with seasonal affective disorder, which is a type of depression related to changes in seasons. They experience symptoms of depression in a seasonal pattern. Some people notice a dramatic increase in symptoms during winter, while others feel worse in the summer. Symptoms can occur during any season and vary in intensity for each person. 

The American Psychiatric Association reports at least five percent of American adults have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood disorder. Most cases occur during the winter months. For some, it can last for 40% of the year. That’s four to five months of depressive symptoms, which sometimes can seem overwhelming and interfere with quality of life.

Is SAD a Form of Bipolar Disorder?

Seasonal depression affects a person’s mood. Typically, someone with SAD experiences mild, moderate, or severe depression during seasons. During opposite seasons, they experience opposite symptoms. People may show signs of mania or hypomania. For example, someone with winter SAD will exhibit depressive symptoms in colder, shorter days of the year. As temperatures rise and the sun is out longer, their mood shifts to energetic and possibly manic.

Reports suggest SAD is a sub-category of bipolar and that up to 22% of people with bipolar have seasonal symptoms. Everyone else with SAD only experiences the unipolar symptoms of depression.

Criteria for SAD Diagnosis

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) lists the criteria for a seasonal depression diagnosis. They include the following that must have occurred for two years:

  • Symptoms of depression or mania occur at about the same time every year in connection with seasonal changes. Signs must not be due to situational causes like losing a job.
  • Symptoms of depression or mania disappear at about the same time every year in connection with seasonal changes.
  • Symptoms during specific seasons do not occur in other seasons. A person with winter depression doesn’t feel depressed during spring, summer, or fall.
  • Seasonal symptoms outnumber non-seasonal symptoms.

Signs You May Have Seasonal Depression

While every person may have different symptoms, there are common signs to watch for when determining if you have SAD. Your symptoms, whether depressive or manic, coincide with specific seasons. 

SAD doesn’t occur overnight. Like how the seasons gradually change, symptoms of SAD are also gradual. You may notice that as summer turns into fall, you find yourself sleeping in more, feeling grumpier, eating more junk food, and feeling tired during the day. These pre-season symptoms are warning signs that in a few weeks, you will experience symptoms of major depressive disorder.

At the height of your seasonal depression, you may experience one or all of the following:

  • Wanting to stay in bed rather than get up and go to work, school, or social events.
  • Being tearful or crying for no apparent reason. You know you should be feeling good but can’t seem to boost your mood.
  • Having an empty feeling, like something is missing in your life.
  • Feeling sadness, hopelessness, guilt, or shame even though there is no reason to feel this way.
  • Reacting with anger outbursts or getting easily frustrated.
  • Experiencing sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Lacking interest in activities you usually enjoy.
  • Isolating from family or friends.
  • Thinking about suicide or what it would be like if you didn’t exist.

The Good News About SAD

People with seasonal depression have something other mental health disorders do not offer. Symptoms are predictable, which means you can prepare for them in advance. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to avoid seasonal depression, like the ones below.

How to Avoid Seasonal Depression

The first step involves contacting a mental health services provider who can help treat your seasonal depression symptoms with medication and therapy. Antidepressants have a high efficacy among people with SAD. Even if your doctor finds medication unnecessary, you can learn practical coping skills through behavioral therapies.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) reduces SAD symptoms and, for some, prevents depression from recurring. One study found that only 27% of people in CBT experienced seasonal depression recurrence. Further, some people no longer had SAD after two years of therapy.

For the 27% who continue to experience depressive symptoms after trying medication and therapy, advanced treatments may help. For example, ketamine infusions and ketamine-assisted therapy provide relief from depression in those who don’t respond to traditional treatments.

Bright Light Therapy

Artificial light from a light therapy lamp or box can replace some of the light you lose during winter months. Sitting in front of the light for at least thirty minutes daily is beneficial. Light therapy improves sleep and mood and eases depressive symptoms. Choosing the right light therapy can be confusing with all the options available in stores today. One study suggests using the following as a guide:

  • Fluorescent lights with a diffusion screen for the light source
  • 10,000 Lux for light intensity
  • Full spectrum of visible light
  • Do not stare directly into the light
  • Sit at least 12 to 24 inches away from light
  • Start with 30-minute sessions daily

Over time, you may make changes in how you use light therapy. Some people use a light they can set to come on gradually as they wake up each morning, mimicking the sunrise. Others use their light at night for an hour or more but discontinue use at least one hour before sleep.

Miscellaneous Tips for Coping with SAD

While no studies definitively prove vitamin D is adequate for coping with seasonal depression, researchers know that vitamin D levels drop in winter months simply because less sunshine is available. Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin D this year.

Other tips for coping with SAD include:

  • Stay active and go outdoors when possible.
  • Eat healthy
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Start a fun hobby
  • Join a support group

Don’t wait until the middle of winter to start making changes. Create a new lifestyle that sets you up for positive health all year.

Contact Mental Health Center for Depression Treatment

Are you or a loved one grappling with persistent feelings of sadness, fatigue, or a lack of interest in daily activities? You’re not alone. Depression is a widespread issue that can severely impact your quality of life, but help is within reach.

Mental Health Center in Los Angeles specializes in providing comprehensive and personalized depression treatment plans. Our expert team of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists use evidence-based methods, such as individual therapy and medication management, to help you regain control of your life.

Imagine a life where you wake up feeling hopeful, spend your day productively, and go to bed content. It’s not just a dream – it’s a very attainable reality. By engaging with our services, you’ll be taking the first step towards a more joyful, balanced life. We offer:

Don’t let depression dictate your life any longer. Contact Mental Health Center in Los Angeles today to schedule your initial consultation or book an appointment online. Take the decisive step towards a happier, healthier you.