How Real is a Seasonal Slump?
How to identify and combat Seasonal Affective Disorder
We are in November and winter is around the corner, which means the days are getting shorter, the mornings are darker, the weather is cooler and life naturally slows down. Some people may experience changes in schedules, routines, and even relationships. And unfortunately, some respond to the season change by planting themselves in front the television or hiding inside to stay warm. These minor changes are normal and regarded as a “seasonal slump.”
But how do you know when a seasonal slump is actually a more serious problem? At this time of year, many people experience the “winter blues” also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of clinical depression that is related to the change in season. SAD symptoms are marked by an overall sense of depression, difficulty sleeping, lack of interest in activities, low energy, and feelings of hopelessness – symptoms you would normally see in Major Depressive Disorder. The fact is that SAD is a biological change in the brain chemistry, which has a direct effect on one’s mood.
What Causes SAD?
According to scientific research, SAD is likely caused by the lack of sunlight alone and not by colder temperatures. The reduction of sunlight is thought to disrupts our biological clock (circadian rhythm). This disruption is thought to cause several gland to reduce production of needed hormones like melatonin, which is a brain chemical that regulates sleep and mood. These factors also contribute to the reduced production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in regulating mood.
Understanding and responding to your needs will help you prepare for whatever season is approaching. As we enter the fall and winter season, consider the physical, emotional, and relational ways you may be affected by this transition. Ask yourself the following questions and take steps to find a solution.
Are you sleeping more or have trouble getting out of bed?
Do you feel less energized and less productive?
Has there been a shift or change in any of your relationships in the recent weeks?
Do you feel more sad compare to other seasons?
Do you feel less patient? Are you easily annoyed or irritated?
Answering these questions could give you some insight about how the change in season may be affecting you. Regardless of whether you are affected by SAD, there are things you can do to help manage any seasonal changes.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is important to see a medical professional if you feel like the different seasons are affecting you in a way that is concerning. According to the DSM-5, SAD is a subtype of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern. A diagnosis can be made after two episodes of depression that occur and end at the same time every year, with full remission or symptoms that subsides in the remaining months.
SAD is a form of depression and can be diagnosed using the same rating scales. Click here to take this nine-question survey.
When trying to manage seasonal change, ask yourself what works best for you. Some treatment regimens include the following:
Light therapy – Get more light! A light box simulates outdoor light which can help stimulate brain chemicals related to mood. Ask your doctor for guidance on what type of light box they would recommend.
Medications – Antidepressants can help relieve symptoms of SAD and better regulate your mood. Prescribed medications need to be taken regularly at the recommended dosage. One may need to try different medications to identify what works best.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is an FDA approved, novel neuromodulation therapy for depression. By using a high-powered magnet, TMS stimulates a part of the brain involved in mood regulation by activating neural circuits and releasing neurotransmitters, which help to alleviate symptoms of depression. It is also covered by most insurances.
Lifestyle adjustments – this can improve symptoms and lift your mood. You might want to try going outside more often, getting plenty of sunlight, exercising, avoiding drugs or alcohol, getting plenty of sleep, or practicing relaxation exercises.
Making healthier lifestyle changes is never a bad idea. But don’t beat yourself up if your symptoms don’t improve right away. Don’t brush them off as the January blues and simply hunker down until spring. (We believe everyday should be lived fully.) Asking for help is a sign of strength and movement towards a better version of yourself. Consider how you can start managing seasonal affective disorder today and live healthier in every season. Please refer to blog “A Guide to Help You Reduce Depressive Symptoms” for more information on ways to help you reduce depressive symptoms, or please contact us at www.baytms.com / www.baypsychiatricassociates.com.
Mayoclinic.org - Overview of Seasonal Affective Disorder (symptoms and causes, diagnosis and treatment)