We might think we know everything about seasonal depression, but many questions remain:
- What exactly is seasonal depression?
- When does it occur?
- What are its causes?
- Who is at risk of suffering from it?
- Are there ways to detect it?
- Can you treat it, or reduce the symptoms?
- Can you overcome it on your own?
It is now time to demystify this condition to fight it the right way!
What is seasonal depression and what are the symptoms?
Seasonal depression is characterized by a state of sadness and lack of motivation.
Once summer is over, anybody can suffer from the “winter blues”. From this perspective, it can seem trivial. After all, we are all slightly affected by the start of fall. The weather is colder, days are shorter. Yet we should not be neglecting these changes since they can lead to more or less serious consequences, depending on the individual and their circumstances; especially since there is a very fine line between the winter blues and seasonal depression.
Desire to isolate yourself and poor diet
It is possible that you may not feel like going out to see your friends and family anymore, hence isolating yourself without even knowing it. You may have less appetite, which can result in weight loss. On the contrary, you may tend to eat more carbohydrates and lipids, foods that usually taste good but can be detrimental to your health.
Lack of sleep or hypersomnia
Another symptom is lack of sleep, worse quality sleep, or the opposite, hypersomnia. Regardless, you may feel constant fatigue and your favorite activities may not seem as pleasant as they used to be.
In its most severe form, you might enter a state of depression or chronic sadness. This is why you cannot minimize the situation, no matter the level of moodiness or depression you might perceive.
Symptoms that come back every year?
With the arrival of fall, it is important to ask yourself if your state of mind is the same as it is on a nice summer day. If not, you might want to notice if these blues come back every year and to what intensity.
For some, the symptoms start with the beginning of fall. For others, the changes may only appear during the winter or even later in the spring. If winter lingers more than expected, your mood might melt like snow in the sunshine. The “winter blues” or seasonal depression do not always appear in the fall.
What are the causes of seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), usually occurs to individuals in southern Quebec during the fall and can last until spring.
Did you know that, according to the research, up to 25% of people in Quebec may experience symptoms of seasonal depression? That 3% of people who are affected by it will need medication to overcome the disorder because their symptoms are the same as regular depression? And that women are more at risk of experiencing it than men?
Seasonal depression is caused by a lack of daylight perceived by the brain, whose level is measured in lux, the scientific measurement unit for brightness. Geographically, the further you live from the equator, the more at risk you are of being affected, since the differences in daylight over the seasons is larger. At the poles, these differences reach their peak: it can be sunny or completely dark for 24hrs straight!
The length of the day, or rather the amount of daylight in the day, has an impact on the brain’s chemistry. Therefore, the variations in daylight duration can break this delicate balance. Our decrease in morale could mainly be caused by a drop in serotonin. A melatonin imbalance could also be a factor, in terms of both lack of sleep and moodiness.
There is still a lot to learn about this phenomenon. There might even be a genetic factor. People who, for genetic reasons, have lower brightness sensitivity in their eyes could be more at risk of developing seasonal depression.
How can seniors overcome the winter blues?
Here are a few tips that elderly people can benefit from to compensate for the lack of daylight, the main cause of winter blues:
- Continuing to go outside
- Being physically active
- Maintaining social interactions
- Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet
- Spending time in nature
- Exposing yourself to the most sunlight as possible
All these actions have a positive influence on controlling the appearance or worsening of seasonal depression. It has been shown that a healthy diet and lifestyle are key to maintaining healthy brain chemistry.
If sustaining good habits is not enough, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Since the primary cause of the disorder is lack of sunlight, he or she might prescribe you light therapy, a treatment that simulates sunlight. This treatment method will help regulate your circadian rhythm, which acts as an inner clock, and readjust your serotonin and melatonin levels. Both lamps and glasses are used for light therapy. Be sure and get sufficient information about different light therapy products available on the market before buying one; it should have at least a 10,000-lux capacity. They can easily be found for a decent price at a pharmacy, specialized medical supply store or certain retail stores. This is an excellent investment if you are suffering from seasonal depression.
Your doctor or pharmacist may also recommend you take a small dosage of melatonin in the middle of the day, which could help regulate your circadian rhythm and reduce your symptoms.
The days getting shorter is the primary cause of the winter blues. It cannot be neglected, but here is some good news: it can be cured! Observing how your body reacts, staying active, eating healthy and using light therapy are all things you can do to fight against this phenomenon.
You are now better informed, but most of all better equipped to face the winter!
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