What is Seasonal Depression?
Do you find yourself feeling depressed as the season changes from fall to winter? Are you experiencing cravings for sweet foods and carbohydrates? Are your energy levels low? Do you constantly feel hopeless, frustrated, and anxious? Have you had thoughts of hopelessness and despair?
Most of us generally feel more upbeat and positive with a spring in our step when the weather is sunny and bright. When the weather is gloomy, cold and dismal, our moods slump and we feel a bit down and beating off seasonal depression can be difficult. However, in some people these mood shifts develop into a type of depression that accompanies seasonal changes and affects their ability to function normally.
Recurrent episodes of clinical depression that surface during seasonal changes, particularly winter and/or during the holidays, are referred to as seasonal depression – or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also commonly called seasonal mood disorder. This condition is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that governs the primary functions of the body such as appetite, temperature, sleep, sex drive, mood and activity.
The hypothalamus is stimulated by natural light entering the eye and striking the retina. When the days are short and sunlight is reduced, the hypothalamus has to adjust its response to the various body mechanisms, slowing down these functions. A milder form of this type of depression is more commonly referred to as winter depression, winter blues, cabin fever or hibernation reaction. Other names for this condition include the holiday blues, holiday depression, or holiday grief.
While winter depression can be uncomfortable, the condition is not unbearable. The classic symptoms of winter depression include fatigue, oversleeping, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, low libido, and sometimes even hopelessness, social withdrawal and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms are similar to those of Seasonal Affective Disorder – but not as severe.
Winter depression usually begins in late fall or early winter and generally disappears by the summer (begins in October or November and subsides in March or April). It frequently affects people living in the northern geographic regions.
People with winter depression are affected by the changes in environmental light such as overcast weather or dim lighting that worsens their depression. Winter is not the only season responsible for mood slumps – a less common type of seasonal affection disorder is called summer depression and it usually begins in late spring or early summer and goes away by winter.
Very often seasonal depression is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms presented are so similar to other types of depression. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as a physical condition such as hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections. There are various treatments options for seasonal depression such as drug, complementary and natural therapy, all of which will enable people to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
Common symptoms of winter depression include the following:
- Weight gain
- A change in appetite (carbohydrate and sweet craving)
- A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- Physical ailments such as body aches, constipation, diarrhea
- Low energy levels
- A tendency to sleep for longer periods
- Loss of sex drive
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Crying spells
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Social withdrawal
Common symptoms of summer depression include the following:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Sleep disorders (such as Insomnia)
- Crying spells
- Trouble concentrating