Seasonal Depression and Ways to Cope

Seasonal Depression and Ways to Cope

By: Molly Harmon

Originally Published: December 18, 2019

This article is part of The Current’s Throwback Thursday Series.

Seasonal depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects countless people during the cold months and otherwise gloomy scenery. Side tangent– whoever named this really had to make it where the acronym is SAD, really? It’s bad enough having to deal with it, but I digress. While knowledge of symptoms and background information is helpful, it’s also important to research ways to cope with SAD. This piece will cover all of these points.

Depression, specifically seasonal depression, affects many people, especially those living in areas with heavy winters. It’s important to not ignore the symptoms and ways it interacts with daily life because not only is it not something to be ashamed of, but also there are helpful resources in local communities and via the Internet to help cope. Hotlines such as SAMHSA’s help number, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), offer 24/7 free aid to those suffering from seasonal affective disorder and other forms of depression. It can be difficult to sit down with a professional and openly talk about one’s feelings, but those resources are also helpful. It may take trial and error to find a therapist or psychiatrist that perfectly fits one’s needs, but once one is found, many available through insurance, a routine of processing emotions and effects of seasonal affective disorder becomes manageable and those experiencing are able to thrive in day-to-day life.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a lack of sunlight exposure can affect one’s internal biological clock. This can trickle down to parts of the brain that control mood, sleep and hormone productivity. Less sunlight exposure is also speculated to create a higher production of melatonin, a chemical that affects sleep patterns. This may explain why those struggling with seasonal depression experience sluggishness or unexplained fatigue. Females are four times more likely to experience SAD, and living distance from the equator highly affects the percentages of those living with it. For example, 9% of Alaskan residents experience seasonal affective disorder, while only 1% in Floridians.

Other symptoms include feeling bodily heaviness, weight gain, change in sleep patterns and craving carbs. While many assume seasonal depression’s symptoms lean towards a major depression diagnosis, this is not true. People who experience SAD only endure these symptoms during a specific time of year, then the symptoms go into “remission,” as stated by PSYCOM. If the symptoms regularly continue throughout the year, seeking a diagnosis from a medical professional may be the best route. It’s important to remember that many people have seasonal affective disorder, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It can be jarring to go from fall’s gorgeous shades of red and orange to snowy streets and parka weather. There are ways to cope with it in order to be able to continue with typical everyday life.

Anya Bothner, a student at the Chicago Art Institute, has found helpful ways to combat with her seasonal affective disorder symptoms, “The things that help are the things that are also the hardest to do,” she shares, “keeping myself in a healthy routine of exercise, making sure I’m eating right, being social and spending time with people who I love who are also positive always helps.” 

Light therapy is a popularly practiced way to treat SAD. Harvard Medical School published an article by Michael Craig Miller, stating the positive attributes of this ally in the study of seasonal affective disorder. He explains:

“Light therapy entails sitting close to a special “light box” for 30 minutes a day, usually as soon after waking up as possible. These boxes provide 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity). That’s about 100 times brighter than usual indoor lighting; a bright sunny day is 50,000 lux or more. You need to have your eyes open, but don’t look at the light. Many people use the time to read a newspaper, book, or magazine or catch up on work.”

If experimenting with light therapy isn’t the ideal choice, dawn simulators are a less time-immersing option. Instead of waking the user up with an abrupt sound, a dawn simulator gradually emits a light when the timer goes off, imitating the sun. Aromatherapy is also a helpful tool. Scents like lavender and lemongrass have been proven to relieve stress, whether that be through clothing spray or specialized tea. Daily exercise and vitamin D tablets are also commonly used to treat SAD.

Again, seeking help with a professional is the ultimately useful source. Yes, this has been reiterated a hundred times, but with good reason. No one should feel pressured to take antidepressants or other forms of medication. However, a trusted professional, preferably one who specializes in depression or seasonal affective disorder, can help navigate new patients in their personal preferences to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The most important thing to take from this, advice aside, is that you are not alone in this. There is a course of action that is right for you and the people who care about your mental health.

Molly Harmon is a senior Professional Writing student from California hoping to end up in a big city. She loves finding hidden fashion gems, listening to pop culture-esque podcasts, and snapping her fingers at poetry open mic nights.  If any of that peaks your interest, you can follow her on Instagram @mollyharmon.