Seasonal depression stinks. Here’s what to do.

More than the “blahs” or feeling bored and ready for a change of scenery, seasonal depression affects daily life. It influences all your thoughts and feelings. It can bring mood swings and sleep issues that feel like a downward spiral. Have you experienced this feeling? 

As indicated by its name, seasonal depression, also called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), typically sets in during the winter and can worsen before it ends in the spring. Knowing the causes, signs, and actions to take can help. We’re also sharing our top nutrition tips and other strategies for managing this insidious condition. 

Suspected causes of seasonal depression are multifold.

Unlike Major Depressive Disorder or other types of depression, seasonal depression is truly linked to the time of year. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, causes of seasonal depression may include: 

  • Lack of sunlight (affecting biology and sense of time)
  • Low vitamin D
  • Imbalance of brain chemicals 
  • Overproduction of melatonin
  • Repeated negative thoughts

Chemically speaking, depression involves both dopamine and serotonin. The exact relationships of these neurotransmitters to depression are still being studied.

Depression is complex, and ultimately many factors can contribute to any individual case. 

Watch for seasonal depression’s signs and symptoms 

Someone with Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder may feel fatigued, notice depression, experience hopelessness, and begin social withdrawal.  

Here are some things to watch for: 

  • Sadness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Carbohydrate cravings. 
  • Weight gain.
  • Extreme fatigue / lack of energy.
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling heavy in the limbs.
  • Loss of interest in typical activities.
  • Sleeping more.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.*

*If you’re experiencing suicidal ideation, please contact someone right away -- reach out to a friend, certainly, but also contact a professional such as a holistic medical practitioner or therapist. 

Seasonal depression, pandemic edition: When every day feels the same

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of challenge for those who experience seasonal depression. Mental health professionals have reported a rise in cases this year. 

There are several reasons for this related to pandemic life. Leaving the house less often means less exposure to natural light from the sun. 

We’re also generally more socially isolated--either by choice or by mandated closings or capacity limits at restaurants and other social venues. 

Many people are also experiencing new and acute stress at this time. Stressors include health, finances, working from home, virtual school, and the more generalized “fear of the unknown,” with so many questions circulating about the novel coronavirus over the past year. 

When there are many stressors present over a short period of time, it’s known to trigger the onset of depression in typical times. So it’s natural that we’re seeing more cases of seasonal depression this year. 

Some ways balanced nutrition matters 

Good nutrition can help to lift spirits and increase energy. A total dietary overhaul might seem daunting to someone suffering from seasonal depression. Focus instead on making even one small but significant change to your nutrition each day. For example, you could add one more serving of leafy greens. Substitute processed food for a whole food. Drink green tea or lemon water. 

A well-rounded multivitamin like Encarna can also help support your body’s own ability to heal and find balance, biologically speaking. Encarna includes MTHFR to help supplement it for those who suffer from deficiencies. MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) is the name for both a gene and an important enzyme in the methylation cycle. Genetically, MTHFR is the most common cause of genetically raised serum levels of homocysteine. Side effects of MTHFR deficiency include fatigue and depression. Mood can shift rapidly with adequate MTHFR enzyme levels.    

Additionally, you need adequate levels of vitamin D, which declines for many people in winter months. In the summer, we typically absorb a fair amount of vitamin D through sunlight. When there is less daylight in the fall and winter, it can really affect our wellbeing.

We find a full suite of B vitamins (such as those in Encarna) to be quite useful for mood and overall health as well. 

Other actions you can take if you’re feeling low

Professionals are investigating the possibility of prevention to be helpful for Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, even late in the season, it helps to try small, daily actions to move toward recovery. Even the most minute actions can add up over time for people suffering from depression. 

You might start by stepping outdoors to breathe in fresh air. Or sit in sunlight near a window. Bright Light Therapy (BLT) can be useful in helping to speed up the recovery process. Studies are finding cognitive-behavioral therapy specifically tailored for SAD to work well in some cases.

Stimulating the senses is believed to help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Some of us have been conditioned to seek sensation only through food. Or perhaps we seek thrills through what we watch or do on screen. There are lots of sensory alternatives. 

Something as simple as a hug, while not a cure, can be incredibly beneficial. We often overlook the incredible healing power of touch and interpersonal connection. Gentle movement -- like a walk or an indoor swim -- can also help. 

Acupuncture treatments like those at Taochemy can bring some relief. Group acupuncture detox can provide a bit of social connection with peers alongside the traditional energetic support. 

Ultimately, you want to find ways to nurture yourself in mind, body and spirit. We recommend you make a long list of possible steps that could comfort you at this time. You might try aromatherapy, a warm bath, reaching out to a loved one, and/or bringing home some fresh-cut flowers or plants… this isn’t a list of things you “have to” do. Simply try one action. Whatever speaks to you. Be gentle with yourself and know that a new season is on its way. 

Please consult your healthcare provider or a therapist if you have any concerns about Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder.