05 Jun 2019

BY: Anna Keyter

Clinical Psychology / Depression / Online Depression Counselling / Seasonal Depression

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Seasonal Depression

Article by Sara Taveira

WINTER IS COMING

Experiencing the Winter Blues (Seasonal Depression)?

What is seasonal depression? We are all familiar with this heading tagline from a famous TV Series. However, the expression is also highly used these days because of the difficulties of “surviving” through the winter, the so-called, winter blues. On a daily basis, we can already notice the slight changes in mood in everyone’s faces, the sense that people are already building up their emotions around the fact that the cold, dark and rainy days are ahead of us.

Why do we feel seasonal depression?

Well, although science has not come up with a specific answer yet, it mentions several contributing factors contributing.

  • Vitamin D: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine”, indeed! This vitamin is very important to our energy levels and mood as it helps with cell growth, our immune system and many other things in our body. During the winter period, most of us wake up when there is no daylight, go to work, spend all day in the office and then, when it’s time to return home, the daylight is already gone. As a result, we do not have much of this vitamin in the winter when comparing to spring and summer time.
  • Hibernation: this may sound strange but some research talks about a physical slow down process that all mammals go through, during winter. Humans are no exception, although in a lighter way. The problem with this is that we actually cannot hibernate and have to keep going with our busy lives.
  • The relation between body hormones, light, and circadian rhythm: these three dances harmoniously. In detail, daylight differences regulate our internal biological clock through the release of hormones, such as melatonin. Therefore, at night, because daylight ends, our body starts producing this hormone which makes us feel sleepy, decreases our body temperature, and many other modifications to tell us “it is bedtime”. The opposite process occurs every morning. So, if you consider all this, you will find the answer to the common question “why am I still so sleepy and tired every morning?”. That is right, in winter when you wake up, there is no daylight, so melatonin is still running happily through your veins, so you feel very sleepy. The lack of light also decreases another hormone, which is extremely important for mood, appetite, sleep, social behaviour and even sexual appetite regulation – serotonin. So, it makes sense that you feel less happy during dark, cold and rainy days, as our natural mood stabilizer is much less produced by our brain.

What can we do beat Seasonal Depression?

Well, I guess just like olive oil, garlic and onions are the basis of any good recipe, so exercise, diet, and sleep are the basis not only for avoiding the winter blues but for good mental health. For this reason, eat smart by avoiding sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, which can deteriorate your mood, and nourish yourself with chocolate once in a while as it helps to boost your mood. Aim for 8 hours of sleep, and get moving by simply going outside and doing a 30 minutes’ walk. You will kill two birds with one stone: you will exercise and get some natural daylight. Other ideas that may help are expressing your emotions and being near your social support for those harder moments, turning on the radio or other music you like at home to glow the dark rainy days or learn a new skill/new project. If your wallet is “booming”, plan a trip to a sunny place.

What if the above ideas are not enough?

It might come as a surprise to you, but there is in fact a mental health disorder caused by the above alterations in our body, a seasonal depression. Some examples of symptoms are sadness and loneliness, social withdrawn, excessive tiredness, irritability, etc. These symptoms have to cause clinically significant distress and/or impairment in important areas of your overall functioning.

So please talk to us if you are worried you might be experiencing seasonal depression. We can assess if you are, and if so, help you to overcome them.

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