Winter months are often referred to as the holiday season, a time of cheer and giving spent with family and friends. For some it is a time of hibernation, isolation, sadness, loneliness, regret, and hopelessness, which can be signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that often leads to depression.
SAD is a subtype of major depression that is triggered by the change in seasons. Although specific causes of SAD remain unknown, a factor that has been identified is the drop in serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that affects mood. Serotonin levels decrease with the reduction in sunlight, triggering depression.
Often individuals who experience depression experience unwanted emotions causing them to feel overwhelmed and stuck. Recognizing signs of depression is the first step in recovery. Some reported signs of depression are:
• Feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed by life.
• Loss or increase of appetite.
• Increased anger or tearfulness.
• Inability to sleep or excessive sleepiness.
• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
• Loss of pleasure in activities one used to enjoy.
Oftentimes people try to deal with depression symptoms alone due to negative messages received from loved ones, such as:
• It is all in your mind.
• Stop pouting and do something about it.
• All you need is a positive attitude.
• Having faith will heal everything.
It is important to take depression symptoms seriously, as untreated depression can lead to negative coping mechanisms, such as:
• Withdrawal from people, places, and things.
• Using drugs and alcohol.
• Using food as comfort.
• Shopping and gambling.
• Suicidal thinking.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can assist in the treatment of SAD and depression. Therapy can assist in identifying negative thinking patterns that affect the body, actions, and mood. It helps with the development of coping skills, such as “thought stopping” where one learns to identify thoughts that ruin his or her mood. Identifying negative thoughts is only one way to create a better mood. Therapy can assist in learning stress management techniques such as scheduling worry time each day (approximately 30 minutes) to provide time to concentrate completely on necessary thinking and problem solving, thereby leaving the rest of the day free of worry.
Establishment of a daily routine can ensure that an adequate amount of time is spent outdoors to allow sun exposure within two hours of getting up in the morning. Incorporation of exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety by producing natural feel-good chemicals to improve mood.
Proactively seeking help at the first sign of symptoms can allow one to obtain skills to manage symptoms before they worsen.
Svea Welch, LPC-MHSP
1083 W. Rex Road
Memphis, TN 38119