In the midst of winter’s chilly embrace, a silent struggle known as seasonal depression takes center stage, affecting millions worldwide. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, individuals grappling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) find themselves navigating a complex landscape of emotions.
Natalie Poole, a board-certified Mental Health Practitioner based in Farmington Hills who specializes in mood disorders, sheds light on the phenomenon: “Seasonal depression is a form of major depressive disorder that occurs at specific times of the year, most commonly during the fall and winter months. Its symptoms are similar to those of major depression but tend to recur seasonally.”
While the exact cause of SAD remains elusive, Poole attributes it to the reduction of sunlight during the colder months, leading to disruptions in circadian rhythms and the production of serotonin and melatonin — neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in mood regulation.
“We are at the time of year where we are more social with our family and friends, but you may find yourself wanting to be alone or lonely, overwhelmed with sadness and I think that can be complicated with feeling of grief, especially around this time of year,” Poole says.
The onset of SAD can manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from fatigue and irritability to changes in sleep patterns and appetite. For those affected, the struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy becomes a daily battle against the winter blues.
“This time of year, I watch families celebrate the holidays and they are all look so excited, but that’s not me,” Olivia Griffin, a 43-year-old administrative assistant, says of her experience with SAD. “Around this time, I just feel really low. I don’t feel the motivation to decorate for the holidays or make vision boards for the New Year. I feel depressed and prefer to be alone. I don’t think the gloomy days help with this feeling.”
Treating Seasonal Depression
While those who have SAD may not be able to avoid the symptoms altogether, Poole says there are ways to treat seasonal depression during the winter months.
“When we think about seasonal affective disorder, the first thing we think about Is that the days are shorter, so increase light, increase mood, decrease light, decrease mood,” she says. “Embrace natural light, (and) stay active. It can make such a difference in elevating your mood — even though its chillier, there’s nothing like taking a brisk walk in the crisp air. It’s exhilarating (and) that way you can see light.”
Poole also suggests that surrounding oneself with others can be helpful because it prevents the mind from wandering during this particular season.
“I know during COVID, so many of us were so use to being alone, but there’s nothing like being with others,” she says, adding that friends and family can play a role in supporting their loved ones who are grappling with SAD.
“The first thing is to acknowledge that it exists,” she says. “We minimize the severity of it, saying things like, ‘you are crazy or get over it,’ and often times a person will not even tell you [what they are feeling]. If you are sensing a change in their behavior, it’s okay to let them know you see change and you are supporting them and let them know that there is help available.”