For some, Summer ends and Depression begins
We are nearing that time of year, once again. The leaves are starting to brown and the 90-degree days are coming around less often. 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. If you know this feeling, you know it can be confusing, scary, or even frustrating. 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 feelings 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?
· Dawn Simulators- 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.
· Physical Activity- 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. You can start by going on walks or exercising at home to see if it starts to impact your day.
· Meditation- Taking some time to ground yourself and be present in the moment can help depressive symptoms, especially as it relates to your thoughts. There are many different types of meditations in the world now- whether you follow a more traditional approach or not, it’s about finding what works for your mind and body. I’ve had many clients enjoy Mindfulness Meditation as a therapeutic technique. You can find a tranquil atmosphere that allows for some thoughtful order, search basic “guided meditations” online, or call a professional near you.
· Plan for Fall- Since the winter is the most common seasonal pattern for SAD, I often encourage my clients to prepare ahead of time. This preparation is meant to be a positive outlook experience: identify things you look forward to during this time. Some people report benefitting from planning more activities during this time- whether it be hanging out with friends or scheduling a vacation…something to look forward to. The intention is to create a positive mindset around a challenging time. Even if all you can come up with is baking cookies and wearing fuzzy socks.
· Medication- 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.
· Psychotherapy- A mental health professional can help with SAD in a few ways. Some seek this specific support to identify helpful tools and exercises to use during those challenging months. They may introduce you to various techniques such as mindfulness or journaling and help you develop specific goals to work on your treatment. Taking some time to process your emotions and thoughts with a professional can make those really difficult days a little easier to get through. If this is an area you would like help with, whether individually or as a couple, we gladly offer our therapeutic services at Intentional Wellness Counseling. You can view our therapists here or book at this link!