Managing Seasonal Depression

It’s finally beginning to feel like Autumn in Ireland with the temperature finally cooling and the winter coats starting to make an appearance. But while many people relish the beautiful colours of the changing leaves and look forward to the Christmas season, others are filled with dread as the darkness increases. This can be for many different reasons, but one that isn’t always considered is seasonal depression, sometimes called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. If you know that you are a sufferer, or perhaps are wondering why you always start to feel down at this time of year, therapist Teyhou Smyth has some great advice for you.

managing seasonal depression blog post imageIt is that time of year again; the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are beginning to drop. For people with seasonal depression, this time of year is often the beginning of a long, emotionally draining series of months. Decreased daylight can mean an increase in symptoms, including fatigue, sadness, and loss of interest in activities.

Changes in sleep and eating patterns, along with withdrawal from social engagement can also impact people with seasonal depression, making fall and winter months nearly intolerable for the thousands of Irish people who struggle with this condition.

While nothing can be done about the changing seasons, we can take steps to decrease our depressive responses during the long autumn equinox and winter solstice seasons. Some people who are particularly vulnerable to seasonal depression opt to move to an area of the world in which the seasonal changes are not as severe.

While the geographical solution does not work for many types of depression and other emotional health challenges, it can work wonders for seasonal depression. If moving to a new location is not an option for you, there are other strategies you can try.

  • Prescription medications: Many antidepressants work well for seasonal depression. Your medical provider can help you determine which class of medication would work best for your specific symptoms.
  • Over the counter supplements: If you prefer homeopathic or herbal remedies, there are plenty of options such as St. John’s Wort, SAMe, Vitamins D and B, Magnesium, Saffron, and Rhodiola. Before starting any medication, whether prescribed or OTC, ask your pharmacist for contraindications with any existing meds or conditions.
  • Light therapy: Using a light box that emits 10,000 lux can help reduce depressive symptoms, even in the dark days of winter. Chemical changes are elicited in the brain as a result of the light box, and this reduces fatigue, sadness and other symptoms.
  • Exercise: When we exercise, our endorphins spike, serotonin levels increase, and our minds and bodies respond favourably. Getting outside for a walk or going for a bike ride can do wonders for seasonal depression. Skiing and building snowmen are additional cold-weather activities that may be fun and provide symptom relief.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: CBT is an evidence-based treatment modality that works well for reducing depression. Talk therapy cannot solve the biochemical aspects of depression but may help you untangle some of your automatic thoughts and assumptions about seasonal changes as well as identifying solutions.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): In studies, patients with seasonal depression have responded well to TMS treatment. TMS is a non-invasive, effective treatment that involves the use of powerful magnets to activate brain cells to release hormones that reduce depression.
  • Hypnotherapy: Professionals who are trained in hypnosis have been using this treatment modality to help alleviate depressive symptoms and other emotional health challenges for centuries. Hypnosis can be used for a wide range of symptoms and has been an effective treatment for seasonal depression.

If you have struggled with depression and notice a seasonal pattern, you are not alone. Even if it has been a long-standing struggle, you can get relief from your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Sometimes getting started is difficult, particularly when depression has depleted your energy levels. Start with one small change, like reaching out to a friend or starting a gratitude journal. Once you get going, the tasks of self-care and managing symptoms will become easier.

Try to keep in mind that difficult times always pass, and in the meantime, enjoy the sunny days and treat yourself with kindness.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK & Irish context.]

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