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Winter Woes: Surviving the Seasonal Blues

When the temperature drops and 5pm looks like mid-night, you know winter is upon us and here to stay for the next three to four months. Winter is one of those seasons that you have a love-hate relationship with. The changes from fall to winter are a beautiful sight, and it has its functions too, like making vegetables sweeter! (Fun Fact: vegetable like carrots and parsnips convert some of their starch to sugars to prevent freezing during the winter months). For some, winters can be very challenging, as their mood and behavior begins to change, the winter blues.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression categorized by changes in mood as the days become shorter and the nights get longer.

What are the Symptoms?

Seasonal depression symptoms are usually similar to major depressive symptoms: loss of interest, changes in behavior, appetite or weight, restlessness, withdrawn, and so on. Of course not everyone’s symptoms will be exactly the same; symptoms may range from mild to severe. Seasonal Affective Disorder also affects those who already deal with major depression or other mental illnesses. SAD can also be hereditary, passed on if there is a family history of depression or other mental illnesses. It’s always advised to talk to your doctor if you think you or your child has Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

How it affects Kids and Teens?

Parents can look out for these symptoms of SAD as the winter months come around. If your child grades drop, they are less interested in socializing even with friends, if they are sleepy all the time, have changes in appetite, either an increase or decrease (most select comfort foods, usually high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars, saturated fats and salt). It’s important for parents to note if these symptoms improve as the season changes to spring. Checking in with your family physician can also help identify if these symptoms are related to any other medical condition or not.

How to Improve Seasonal Depression?

There is no cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but there are steps you can take to manage symptoms.

Here are 3 ways to improve seasonal depression:

Good Nutrition

Nutritional psychiatry is a pretty new field, but has been proven to have some weight in the treatment of depression. Persons living with SAD may make undesirable food choices due to their mood. A diet high in red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, full-fat dairy, butter, and potatoes, and low in fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.

On the other hand, a 2017 meta-analysis found that diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants was associated with a decreased risk of depression. Emphasizing once again the superiority of the Mediterranean diet, filled with nutrients such as B vitamins, zinc, folate, and magnesium, essential for the brain.

Light therapy

Light therapy is believed to help with balancing out the hormones affected in SAD, Melatonin and Serotonin. As daylight shortens in the winter, melatonin increases, hence the excessive feeling of tiredness and lack of interest. Serotonin levels increase with exposure to sunlight, Sun Lamps are great for mimicking sun rays.

Glances at the lamp for 30 to 45 minutes every morning can be effective in treating seasonal depression. Use caution, though, as spending too much time in front of the lamp can actually cause agitation due to over-stimulation.

A Mental Health Provider

Seeing a mental health provider may also help individuals dealing with SAD get a better understanding of the illness and discover strategies on how to cope. Psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners also have the ability to prescribe mood stabilizing medications if those are needed.

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