WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Overcoming the Seasonal Blues

Nov 28, 2018

As we near the end of November and officially approach winter, it’s important that we consider the seasonal blues that causes our moods to drop with the temperature. The sun is setting earlier, the snow is falling and leaves are hanging on to their last hope. For some of us, this is the most beautiful time of the year, but for others, the fall and winter can really begin to take a toll on our minds. By this time every year, many of us have already began to experience symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns. Changes in mood, feeling tired, and high calorie cravings are some of the obvious signs to look out for.

Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns (formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD) can really cause our moods to drop with the temperatures. According to the DSM V, a general diagnosis can be characterized by a person experiencing recurrent episodes of depressed moods in late fall and winter. These moods typically alternate with periods of stable moods during other seasons of the year.

When diagnosing Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns, clinicians like myself are typically looking for a correlation between depressive episodes and a particular time of the year (such as fall and winter) that has been persistent for at least the past two years. If there are additional seasonal psychosocial stressors such as the loss of a job or death of a loved one that happened during this time of year that can cause a person to be triggered, it may not be major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.

Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns typically show up in individuals that live in Northern Latitudes. These higher latitudes receive less sunlight in the winter months. The lack of Vitamin D can cause achiness in bones, feelings of fatigue/drowsiness, and weakness or pain in muscles and joints. The lack of Vitamin D can also cause symptoms that mirror depression including but not limited to sadness, thoughts of suicide, insomnia or hypersomnia, difficulty in concentrating, and loss of appetite.

Individuals between the ages of 20 and 30 should also be on the lookout. 20-to-30 is the typical age of onset. However, symptoms can appear earlier or later in life. For those who are college students in the area, symptoms may include an increase in feeling homesick, isolation, diminished interest, and lack of motivation academically during the fall and winter months.

In addition to geographical and age prevalence, we must keep in mind that women are twice as more susceptible to experiencing Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns than men.

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for within yourself as well as those around you:

  • Depressed moods including: sadness, increase in feelings of guilt and shame, decreased self-esteem, thoughts of suicide, diminished interest in activities, and lack of motivation
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and/or an increase in absences from work/school during the fall and winter months.
  • Thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Decrease in stress tolerance
  • Insomnia and hypersomnia, repeated awakenings, or early morning awakenings with difficulty going back to sleep
  • Frequent feelings of fatigue, waking up still feeling tired, or feeling like you can never get enough rest
  • Craving for starchy and sweet foods or loss in appetite
  • Weight changes including both significant weight gain or weight loss
  • Increase in irritability
  • Isolation
  • Low sex drive and decreased interest in physical contact

With this foundational understanding of how Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns presents, here are a few things that you can do to manage these symptoms. For starters, you can begin by:

  • Planning a Winter Vacation during the spring and summer months. This will allow you the time and money to save for a winter vacation. It will also give you something additional to look forward to during the cold months when you dread getting out of bed in the morning.
  • Go to counseling! For preventative measures, start counseling as early as September. It takes time to get scheduled and you may have to see more than one counselor before you find the one that you like. Give yourself time to get in and build rapport with your provider.
  • If counseling isn’t an option for you, try tracking your mood by keeping a mood log. Monitoring your mood through keeping a mood log will help you to notice patterns. This data can help to better manage symptoms. For instance, if you find that you’re the saddest at 10 pm before bed, you can try practicing a meditation exercise to better offset your mood.
  • This brings me to my next point, Practice Mindfulness and Meditation as often as possible. If you’re not familiar with mindfulness and meditation, you can start by downloading apps such as “headspace” or “calm”. Set specific times during the day to practice and stick to that schedule.
  • Speaking of, sticking to a schedule can also be beneficial for managing Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns. This can ensure that you get a good amount of sleep and a good amount of sunlight daily. The sunlight will increase vitamin D and increase you in energy.
  • Some of the ways for you to get Vitamin D during the winter months includes, opening curtains during the morning/daytime, getting out of the house before 5pm, and choosing foods that increase vitamin D levels.
  • Finally ,maintain your health through diet and exercise. Try moving around as much as possible to increase endorphins in the brain.

Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Patterns can look different in different people. If you or a loved one is experiencing seasonal patterns, I encourage you to speak with a counselor immediately. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Tyra Steverson is a Counselor with the University Counseling Center at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.