The comfort of a cup of hot cocoa or the joy of the first winter snow may be something you look forward to all year. For all of the authentic joy that characterizes the winter season, there’s a real sadness experienced by so many individuals during the same period of time. Winter depression, also known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” is a common mood disorder that affects individuals during the winter months and changes with the seasons. Although it is temporary by nature, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can impose heavy implications if not properly addressed.

Winter depression is commonly thought to be brought about by numerous factors. The declining light as fall becomes winter can contribute to disrupted sleep patterns, decreased activity due to colder weather and less social engagement as outdoor activities are suspended until warm weather returns. Most research points to light exposure as the major factor in winter seasonal depression, and other winter changes may be contributing factors in exacerbating the symptoms.

Depression during the winter is common, but complex. SAD is a clinically significant diagnosis, so do not discount your depression during the winter if you feel that it is severe and impacting your daily productivity or sense of self-worth.

Do I have winter depression?

While the following information does not, by any means, serve as a clinical diagnosis, there are a few common signs of winter depression that commonly indicate seasonal affective disorder. These include:

  • Consistent feelings of depression for most of the day, over a series of consecutive days
  • Lethargic activity and lack of general energy
  • Difficulty sleeping at night and concentrating during the day
  • Inability to shake feelings of hopelessness or general guilt
  • Persistent thoughts of suicide or death

Keep in mind that in order to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, an individual must meet the criteria for a major depressive episode. Episodes include feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities which were previously found to be entertaining, agitated mood swings and difficulty sleeping. These episodes would need to persist for a period of at least two successive years in both the fall and winter, before psychiatrists will begin to consider a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis.

Can vitamin D help with depression during winter?

While Vitamin D in itself is far from an absolute resolution for winter depression, it can absolutely help mitigate symptoms. Existing naturally in some foods, Vitamin D is created by the body when ultraviolet rays (natural sunlight) hit the skin and facilitate vitamin D synthesis. It can also be taken as a supplement. Vitamin D helps to regulate other nutrients in the body, promoting muscle and bone health. A few minutes of sunshine a day can provide an influx of Vitamin D and greatly improve overall mood, as can eating Vitamin D-rich foods like fish, eggs and spinach. Light therapy is an effective treatment for SAD, because it increases overall Vitamin D levels in the body.

Dealing with winter depression

Knowing your options for treatment is a great place to start. Consider modifying your schedule and diet to introduce increased Vitamin D into your daily routine. Light therapy is also a common treatment for winter depression, using artificial light to help your body create Vitamin D when natural sunlight is unavailable or inconvenient. Light boxes are used to generate the artificial light.

In addition to Vitamin D intake and light therapy, any form of depression can be addressed and treated through mental health counseling. Although depression during winter is more circumstantial than depression in other forms, this does not negate the seriousness of the diagnosis.

Making a special effort to bolster your mental health during the winter can help you combat winter break blues. Exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, meditating, engaging in relationships, building community, registering sufficient sleep and practicing smart eating habits can boost your mood and give you a great sense of control during your treatment.

What do I do if I think I have SAD?

If you think you might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, know that licensed therapists are ready to help. Your self-reflection is invaluable to your overall treatment, and noticing indicators of SAD will definitely be something you want to talk through with a professional. Discussing treatment options and lifestyle changes is what counseling is all about; bringing your winter depression is the first step toward receiving the help you need to thrive. At Walden, we regularly help clients address seasonal affective disorder and other mental health concerns. Call us today at (301) 327-2555 or visit us online, to learn even more about all the ways Walden can help reintroduce you to the life you know you deserve.