We are nearing that time of year, once again. The time when you may feel your energy diminishing and your mood seems to lower as days go by. Maybe this is something you’ve dealt with for years and can feel coming on, or this may be your first time experiencing such a drastic change. For many, this change is confusing and scary. It can have an impact on our personal and professional life, our education, or relationships and the symptoms are often categorized as depressive. Many people suffer from depression- some specifically struggle with a seasonal pattern of depression.
What is it?
What is often known as Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is actually recurring major depression with a seasonal pattern. To not cause confusion, this will often be referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD throughout the article. The essential feature to this diagnosis is the onset and remission of major depressive episodes at characteristic times of the year. It is common for the episodes to begin in the fall or winter and remit in the spring. Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, even with too much sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings. Other symptoms specifically related to major depression include feeling of sadness or depressed mood, marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble concentrating or making decisions, or thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide.
What can help?
These are unique alarm clocks that wake you by producing light with gradual intensity- just like the sun. Waking in this environment, opposed to loud music or beeping, has been found effective in helping people with mild SAD.
This is a common tool for helping with other many forms of depression, including SAD. Physical activity not only increases blood flow to the brain, it releases endorphins, and other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which lift mood.
When other tools haven’t seemed to help enough, your doctor may suggest an antidepressant. Many antidepressants are considered an SSRI, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which helps increase the amount of serotonin to your brain. This chemical is often lowered during depressive states. Research has shown that antidepressant medications often work best when combined with non-pharmacological approaches like psychotherapy, support groups, or healthy lifestyle habits.
A mental health professional can help with SAD in a few ways. A licensed professional can offer the option of diagnosis in order to get further treatment, such as medication. A therapist can also be of help in working with you to figure out what tools and exercises may be most helpful with your SAD. He or she may introduce you to various techniques such as mindfulness or journaling and help you develop specific goals to work on your treatment. If this is an area you would like help with, whether individually or as a couple, I gladly offer my therapeutic services. Visit samnabilcounseling.com to book an appointment!