Vitamin D for Seasonal Depression
By | July 7th, 2023
You know that feeling of the winter blues settling in as the days get shorter and colder? The lack of motivation, low energy, changes in appetite, and mood swings that come around the same time each year. For some people, these symptoms are more than just a case of the winter blues – it’s a real medical condition known as seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. If you struggle with mood changes, sleep problems, and weight gain each fall and winter, you may be one of the many dealing with this disorder. Keep reading to learn what causes seasonal depression, and how it’s diagnosed and the steps Evolve Wellness Inc’s outpatient treatment for depression takes to beat those winter blues for good.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression related to seasonal changes. Typically, people experience it in the fall or winter, when there are fewer daylight hours.
While less common, some individuals develop seasonal depression in the spring or summer. About 5% of adults in the U.S. experience seasonal depression. Women, younger adults, and those with a family history of depression or bipolar disorder seem to be at higher risk.
The exact cause of seasonal depression isn’t known but may be related to decreased exposure to sunlight, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm and hormone levels. To diagnose SAD, doctors check for symptoms of depression that start and end during a particular season for at least two years in a row. There are no specific medical tests for seasonal depression.
The main treatments for seasonal depression are light therapy, medications, counseling, or a mix of these. Exposing yourself to bright light, especially early in the day, can help. Antidepressants may also provide relief. Making lifestyle changes like exercising, limiting alcohol, and maintaining a routine sleep schedule will help you feel better too.
The Role of Vitamin D in Seasonal Depression
Vitamin D plays a significant role in seasonal depression. It is known as the “sunshine vitamin” that helps regulate your mood and circadian rhythm. Without enough sun exposure, your vitamin D levels can drop, potentially contributing to the fatigue, irritability, and mood changes of SAD.
Studies show many people with SAD have lower vitamin D levels, especially in the winter. Sunlight exposure triggers the synthesis of vitamin D in the body, and the resulting deficiency during darker months may affect neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which are involved in mood regulation. While more studies are needed, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels through sunlight exposure, dietary sources, or supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression.
So, if you feel the winter blues setting in, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. If low, a supplement of 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D per day may help lift your mood and ease symptoms. It’s an easy, natural way to bring a little sunshine into the colder months.
And don’t undervalue the power of the “sunshine vitamin,” which, when combined with other self-care techniques like exercising, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and sticking to a routine, could make a real difference in your seasonal well-being. Light therapy and antidepressants, on the other hand, continue to be common treatments.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
The following are some of the most common symptoms of seasonal depression:
- Changes in appetite or weight. Some people experience increased appetite and weight gain, while others experience loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Difficulties focusing or making decisions. Seasonal depression can make it hard to focus and affect your productivity.
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt. Negative and self-critical thoughts are common with seasonal depression.
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. You may lose motivation or enthusiasm for hobbies, socializing, and exercise.
- Low energy or fatigue. Feeling lethargic, sluggish, and tired is a hallmark symptom of seasonal depression.
- Oversleeping or difficulty sleeping. Some people oversleep and have trouble getting out of bed, while others experience insomnia or restless sleep.
- Physical aches and pains. Seasonal depression can manifest as frequent headaches, stomach issues, or general muscle aches and pain.
If you experience several of these symptoms for at least two weeks, you may have seasonal affective disorder. The symptoms often start in the fall or winter and subside in the spring and summer. However, some individuals can experience seasonal depression during the warmer months as well.
What are the Criteria for Seasonal Depression?
To be diagnosed with seasonal depression, you must meet certain criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The main criteria are:
Symptoms Present During a Particular Season
Your symptoms of depression must start in the fall or winter and end in the spring or summer. If you feel depressed year-round, it’s likely not seasonal depression.
Symptoms Recur Annually
You must experience depression symptoms at the same time each year for at least two years in a row. If symptoms pop up randomly or in different seasons, it may be another form of depression or mood disorder.
No Other Explanation for the Symptoms
Your doctor will evaluate whether factors like stress, medication changes, or medical issues could be causing your symptoms instead of the changing seasons. If not, a diagnosis of seasonal depression is more likely.
Symptoms Cause Problems with the Functioning
Feeling down or blue is not enough. Your depression symptoms must significantly impact your ability to work, interact with others, or enjoy life to meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
If your symptoms match these criteria, your doctor may have you fill out questionnaires about your mood and health to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests or other procedures are not usually needed but may be ordered to rule out any underlying conditions. The good news is that seasonal depression is very treatable, especially if caught early.
How is Seasonal Depression Treated
Several effective treatments are available for seasonal depression. The most common options include:
- Light therapy: Exposure to bright light, especially in the morning, can help reset your body’s circadian rhythm and improve your mood. You can use a light therapy box or visor for 20-30 minutes a day.
- Antidepressants: Doctors may prescribe antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help balance brain chemicals that regulate mood and ease symptoms. The medications are often started in the fall and continued through the winter.
- Counseling: Speaking with a therapist or counselor can help you identify negative thoughts and behaviors related to the seasons and learn coping strategies. Outpatient telehealth therapy such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially helpful for seasonal depression.
- Lifestyle changes: Exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and caffeine, eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, and spending time with others can all help boost your mood during winter. Sticking to a routine and planning fun activities can make the seasons seem less dreary.
- Supplements: For some people, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, or melatonin supplements may provide relief from seasonal depression symptoms. However, always check with your doctor first before starting any supplements.
Seasonal depression is often best treated with a combination of light therapy, medication, counseling, and lifestyle changes. The specific telehealth mental health treatment approach depends on the severity of your symptoms and other factors. The key is to start treatment early, before symptoms become severe. With proper treatment and self-care, you can feel better even during the darker months.
How Do You Take Care of Yourself If You Have Seasonal Depression
The winter blues can really get you down. When seasonal depression hits, make sure to practice self-care. Some tips to help boost your mood:
- Get outside. Go for walks or jogs, even if it’s cold out. Exposure to natural light helps balance your circadian rhythm and lift your mood.
- Exercise regularly. Take up yoga, hit the gym, or go for a swim. Exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, which act as natural antidepressants.
- Eat a healthy diet. Focus on lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Limit sugar, and engage in social interaction. Call a friend, volunteer, or join a club. Socializing and community support help combat isolation and negative thoughts.
- Find activities you enjoy. Read, knit, bake, play board games, whatever makes you happy. Having hobbies and fun distractions boosts serotonin and motivation.
- Seek professional help if needed. Speaking to a therapist or considering medication can help if self-care measures are not enough. You don’t have to go through this alone.
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over lost productivity or motivation. Seasonal depression is an illness like any other. Take things day by day and know that this too shall pass.
You have the power to lift your own mood and ease the symptoms of seasonal depression. While the winter may seem long and dreary, focusing on self-care and maintaining a positive attitude will get you through until the sun shines again. You’ve got this! Stay strong, and remember to be gentle with yourself. Happier days are ahead.
Evolve Wellness Inc Can Assist with Seasonal Depression
Evolve Wellness Inc is dedicated to helping individuals struggling with seasonal depression find relief and regain their well-being. With a team of experienced professionals, they offer comprehensive support and evidence-based treatments tailored to the unique needs of each individual. We understand the impact of reduced sunlight exposure on mood and strive to provide effective strategies to alleviate symptoms and improve overall mental health.
Aside from treating depression, we also offer online therapy for OCD and telehealth for anxiety. If you’re seeking assistance for seasonal depression, consider reaching out to Evolve Wellness Inc to embark on a path toward healing and brighter days ahead. Contact us now!