Be Mindful of Your Mental Health as the Seasons Change

Portrait of a lonely girl in park

The Fall season is full of fun and exciting activities like Halloween, pumpkin carvings, apple picking, festivals and parties. But the Fall weather can also bring the onset of seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues” for many people. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from mild winter SAD, and nearly 5 percent suffer from a more severe form of the disorder.

How does the seasonal change trigger the winter blues? In the fall and winter months the reduced level of sunlight can affect your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Depression has been linked to lower levels of serotonin. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that can affect mood and sleep patterns has been linked to seasonal depression as well. Melatonin is produced at increased levels in the dark, so now that the days are growing darker and shorter, the production of melatonin in your body will increase. Melatonin can affect your “biological clock,” or circadian rhythm, which can cause irregular sleeping and waking patterns, and result in symptoms associated with seasonal depression.

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Per Mental Health America, some of the specific symptoms of seasonal depression include:

  • Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, diminished interest in activities, despair, and apathy
  • Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
  • Mood changes: extremes of mood and, in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
  • Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
  • Lethargy: feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
  • Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
  • Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
  • Sexual problems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact

Treatment Options

Mental Health America said light therapy, or phototherapy, has been shown to help suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. Other alternatives, such as antidepressant drugs can also be used to reduce or eliminate SAD symptoms, but you’ll need to discuss options with your family doctor first.

In the meantime, if the season has you feeling sluggish, try combating that with physical and mental activities:

  • Stay active. Exercise can help reduce tension and stress, keep your immune system in check, and make you feel good. Try to work out a few times a week.
  • Be productive during your free time. When you aren’t working and have some time for yourself, fill it with activities like reading a novel, playing games or working on puzzles, or getting around to some projects you’ve put on the back burner. Being productive will keep your mind occupied.
  • Stay social. Social activities do wonders for warding off depression and stress, so make sure to make plans with friends or family whenever you can this Fall.
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