Society of Bioethics and Medicine
Counter-Measures Against Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Written by Silvia Hanna
Edited by Sanjana Ahmed
My mom describes the coming of winter as a gigantic monster that slowly and dreadfully creeps up on her every year, an apt depiction of the mental turn many take as the trees become bare and the temperature begins to drop. For many people, the onset of winter doesn’t just bring with it the dread of the cold weather, but also the “winter blues.” It’s estimated that 25% of the U.S. population suffers from at least a mild form Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), “a type of depression that’s triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts” (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Most prevalent in younger people and women, this form of depression is often accompanied by fatigue, weight gain, and sluggishness.
One of the most well-known causes of the winter blues is Vitamin D deficiency, which is due to the lack of sunlight. This can cause a drop in the body’s serotonin levels. Additionally, the change in the body’s biological clock due to the decrease in daylight can interfere with the regulation of mood and hormones. Surprisingly, a significant factor of seasonal depression are our own negative thoughts and anxieties about winter, although it’s debated whether this is a cause for this type of depression, or if seasonal depression is the cause of these negative thoughts.
Given these factors it’s crucial to take proactive measures in the early and late fall to counteract the negative psychological effects of the change in seasons. Getting more involved socially with more gatherings and outings during this time can help counteract the effects of the winter blues. Especially during the winter, we have a greater tendency to stay indoors due to the cold weather, and therefore unintentionally isolate ourselves. Being aware of this tendency and finding ways to work through or around it can make a big difference in our moods. Whether that means just bundling up and getting outside despite our initial hesitancy, or finding other ways to connect with people, we need to find ways to prioritize our social activities during this time of year. Additionally, making sure to stick to a fixed routine and sleep schedule can help regulate our biological clocks and reduce stress during this time of year.
Maximizing the amount of sunlight we receive in the day can also have a great impact on our moods. Making sure to open the curtains in the daytime or going for a walk in the afternoon can help ease the symptoms of seasonal depression. Like with other forms of depression, exercise can also help by releasing endorphins into the body and reducing stress. Taking vitamin D supplements might be helpful as well, since vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for SAD. Finally, it’s beneficial to shift our mindsets about the coming of winter by focusing on the positives and embracing everything we love about the season, like holiday music and movies, hot chocolate, cozy pajamas, and winter decor. This can help reduce our negative thoughts and anxieties about the season and help us have a more positive attitude during this time of year. All of these can be good habits to implement that could help with our mental health overall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re guaranteed to prevent all negative thoughts and emotions. Each person is different and has their own struggles, and there often isn’t just a “quick fix” for them. Being open to talk to a trusted mentor or a professional when needed is just as important as having a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle during this time of year.
- Avery, D. (2022, September 1). UpToDate (P. P. Roy-Byrne & D. Solomon, Eds.). Uptodate.com. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 10).
- Seasonal Depression (SAD) | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression
- Orenstein, B. W. (2017, June 5). 12 Ways to Ease Seasonal Depression Symptoms. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/treatment/ways-to-ease-seasonal-depression/