4 Things You Can Do Today to Fend Off Seasonal Depression Tomorrow

September 17, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Adriana Phan, M.D. contributes to topics such as Psychiatry.

Kristen Clark, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health .

Ram Mahato, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

If it feels like it’s harder to find joy in winter, you’re not alone. About 5 percent of American adults experience seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that tends to be associated with a certain time of year.

Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

Depression is distinctly different from everyday feelings of sadness or fatigue that can be brought on by life’s ups and downs. Seasonal depression is marked by some specific symptoms including:

  • Sleeping more than usual and feeling drowsy during the day
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought you joy
  • Feeling irritable and anxious
  • Feeling guilty and hopeless
  • Decreased libido
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrates
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

“Although the cause of SAD is not completely understood, it is thought that decreased sunlight in the fall and winter can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, causing feelings of depression,” says Ram Mahato, M.D., medical director of the Center for Behavioral Health at JFK University Medical Center Center. “This change in sunlight and season can also affect your body’s levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that affect your mood.”

Combating Seasonal Depression

Although you can’t stop the changing of the seasons, there are a few things you can do to combat seasonal depression.

  1. Stay Active: Exercise is a great way to naturally combat the imbalance of brain neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine) that can contribute to depression. “When we exercise, our bodies produce endorphins, which are mood-boosting hormones that counteract serotonin and dopamine deficiencies that can bring us down,” says Adriana Phan, M.D., psychiatrist located in Hackensack, New Jersey. Pick an activity you enjoy; it doesn’t have to be a chore. Gardening, walking, dancing and even playing with your kids are all good forms of exercise.
  1. Eat Healthily: Our diets do more than provide us energy; they also impact our mental health. A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits and low in highly processed foods can help curb feelings of depression by reducing inflammation in our bodies, which is a risk factor for depression.
  1. Stay Connected: Social connections can be a great defense against depression. Whether you talk on the phone, video chat or meet in person, keep in regular contact with friends and family for a healthy and happy mind. “Experiencing depression of any kind is not a sign of weakness and shouldn’t be dealt with alone,” says Kristen Clark, M.D., medical director of Outpatient Adult Behavioral Health Services at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, ask your doctor what treatment options are available.”
  1. Get Outside: Even on a cloudy day, go outside for a walk or to eat lunch at a park. Get as much sunlight as you can: Sit or work close to a window, open your blinds or trim trees blocking sunlight.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.