Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Ahhhh spring.

The song of birds is returning, breezes are coming through open windows, kids are able to go outside (every parent in the Midwest right now sighs an enormous sigh of relief in unison), grills are firing up, leaves are returning, and grass is shifting from dull browns and tans to bright greens.

Sounds amazing… except for if you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (more commonly known as Seasonal Depression).

Many people have the misconception that if a depression is seasonal, it is only happening in the cold and sullen months of winter.  Sometimes that can be the case.  However, my highest volume of new clients are flooding in during the spring (which is a trend I noticed during my practicum and every year since).  It was a trend that was often drilled into our knowledge base by our professors in grad school.  Spring is the highest risk time for individuals to struggle with SAD.

But, why? Why, with all of those beautifully refreshing things happening, would someone be at risk for seasonal depression?

Truthfully, there is no “for sure” reason for this but there are a couple of very strong theories (in the field of psychology, we deal with more correlations than causations as it is a science and an art… this is one of those cases).  Below are some theories and some suggestions of alleviation based upon the theories.

Vitamin D DeficiencyIf you live in a 4 season climate and you aren’t a winter-time outdoors person, you’ve likely had a major decrease in sunshine over the winter months.  Truly, people begin to avoid the outdoors in late fall and so by the time the air is fresh and the weather is tolerable enough to spend time in the sunshine again, it’s been 3-5 full months of not enough sunshine.  Since Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, we need those rays to penetrate our skin in order to have a healthy level of Vitamin D (which affects mood immensely).  Now, if you are fair skinned like me (I’m about as porcelain as they come), you’re likely not absorbing those rays even in the warm months because you’re lathering up that sunscreen (don’t stop doing that… nobody needs sun poisoning on account of Vitamin D).  For those who struggle with SAD regularly, I recommend your annual check-up take place at the end of Fall so that if you have low levels of Vitamin D (it’s found in routine bloodwork), your physician can let you know what supplements would work for you (or recommend an alternate treatment relating to light therapy). 

Decreased Levels of Serotonin Also due to the decrease in sunlight, it is not uncommon for levels of this mood-affecting neurotransmitter to drop.  If this is the case, your SAD is more severe during the winter than during the spring. Light therapy and psychotherapy are helpful in raising serotonin levels.  Also, exercise, healthy eating, meditation, laughter/creativity, and other healthy activities will help with a serotonin boost.  You might also consult with your physician about Vitamin B6 if you’re having a hard time boosting those levels with the typical self-care regimens. 

Circadian Rhythm & Melatonin ChangesThe circadian rhythm is essentially your body’s biological clock.  It helps keep a person in a healthy sleep-wake cycle in any given 24 hour day.  While sleep health is important all of the time, it is crucial to have a predictable and healthy sleep-wake cycle during the winter months as this is affected greatly by (once again) sunlight and, in this case, temperature. If you aren’t able to sleep, your melatonin levels are affected, which turns into a vicious cycle of a disruption in your circadian rhythm.  Talk to your physician about melatonin in this case, too.  It is also important to have good sleep hygiene.  If you have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep, it is suggested that you do not have screen time while in bed (phones, tablets, and TV’s do not need to be on while you’re in bed), you go to bed at the same time each night, and you turn your brain off prior to getting into bed.  If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else in a different room (not screen-related) for about a half hour or until you’re tired and your brain is relaxed (whichever comes first). 

​​Crashing Hopes<——– Have you seen this meme about Winter being mad? That’s a thing in mental health. Long fight with the cold winter months… and then a ray of hope shines through with above freezing temperatures… but no… it can’t last… because we need another arctic storm. And another couple days of beautiful weather… more hope. BOOM! Fifty below zero wind chill the next 3 days.  And so on and so forth.  This hope coming and quickly crashing plays a large role in our mood overall.  The same suggestions as above will help with this.

Just like with anything else brain-health related, always consult with professionals like your physician and a counselor if you’ve noticed symptoms of depression and anxiety.  There are many things you can do for yourself for mood-related disorders, but there are also many avenues that we are trained in exploring with you. If you would like to schedule an appointment, call or click here to schedule online.