Seasonal depression is exactly what it sounds like—depression that ebbs and flows with the season. And it’s more common than you might think. About 10 million Americans experience seasonal depression, and most of those people are women.
In fact, women are four times more likely to experience seasonal depression than others.
An Introduction to Seasonal Depression aka SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder
Also known (quite accurately) as SAD or seasonal affective disorder, seasonal depression most commonly occurs in the fall through the winter and eases up during the spring and summer months. However, some people find that their depression worsens in the spring or summer and resolves in the fall and winter.
Regardless of when seasonal depression comes on, it can be difficult to maintain the same quality of life when your mood drops and accomplishing basic tasks feels impossible.
Thankfully, you can always take steps to change your behaviors, habits, and mindset year-round to improve the symptoms of seasonal depression.
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression in Women
With seasonal affective disorder, the symptoms tend to be mild when they begin. Then, as the weeks go on, they become more severe.
Here are some symptoms you may experience if you have seasonal depression, especially winter-onset SAD:
• Feeling down or sad most days
• Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
• A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy doing
• Having low energy, feeling tired and sluggish most of the time
• Sleeping too much
• Craving carbohydrates excessively
• Overeating and weight gain
• Trouble concentrating
• Having passive or active thoughts of suicide (active thoughts include forming a plan and realistically weighing the decision, while passive thoughts sound more like “I wish I weren’t here” or “Life is just too hard”)
If you experience summer-onset SAD, you may also experience:
• Insomnia, trouble falling or staying asleep
• A loss of appetite and weight loss
• Increased agitation and irritability
What Causes Seasonal Depression?
The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown, but we do know that several factors have a significant impact on our overall mental health, including:
• Quality of sleep
• Drug and alcohol use
If you struggle with seasonal depression, ask yourself these questions.
• Am I sleeping well most nights?
• Do I eat a varied diet with enough vegetables, fiber, and essential nutrients?
• Am I active most days?
If the answers to all or some of these questions are “no,” you should recognize that while your lifestyle may be a result of your emotional state, these factors are contributing to your negative feelings.
You may also be taking medications or using substances to cope with your mental or physical health issues. Drugs can have a significant impact on your seasonal depression. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your medications because an adjustment could help you.
Seasonal Depression Treatment and Coping Mechanisms
Everyone has their own coping mechanisms for stress, and embedding healthy coping strategies into your day-to-day life can help treat seasonal depression.
Depending on the severity of your seasonal affective disorder, you may want to take charge of treating your depression year-round—or you may want to begin a seasonal regimen to take care of your mental health.
Whatever course you take, here are some strategies to help you manage your seasonal depression.
Counseling and Talk Therapy
Talking to a professional is one of the best things you can do for your mental health any time of year.
A therapist or counselor can help guide you through the negative emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors that contribute to your depression. If you’re willing to learn and grow, they will give you the tools you need to do so and get back on track in your life.
Light Therapy and Vitamin D Supplements
A professional may recommend light therapy or vitamin D supplements if they suspect your winter-onset SAD is the result of sunlight deficiency.
Be mindful to not take too much over the counter vitamin D supplements, as they can cause vitamin D toxicity and hypercalcemia. Always consult your doctor before taking supplements.
Changing Your Behaviors
Remember when we talked about how your diet, sleep, and activity could be both causes and symptoms of your depression?
The good news is that you can take charge of making lifestyle changes for the better. Keep in mind that your goals here are slow, steady, and sustainable—you want to make lasting changes that can improve your mental health for the rest of your life.
Here are some simple changes you can make this year:
• Incorporate more vegetables into your diet
• Eat fewer processed foods
• Eat less red meat
• Avoid junk food like chips, crackers, cookies, soda, and fast food
• Add walking to your daily routine
• Increase your activity level by doing exercise you enjoy like yoga, hiking, swimming, sports, or dancing
• Make changes to your bedroom to promote better sleep, like turning off all the lights
• Say no to screen time 1-3 hours before bed
Addressing Your Negative Thought Patterns
It’s possible to establish a habit of positivity. It may sound difficult, but over time, you’ll form new connections in your brain that tear you away from negativity and put you on the path to positivity.
Talk to a therapist about how to recognize, address, and alter your negative thought patterns for the better, and check out these resources for your mental health:
• Woebot (this AI self-care expert isn’t perfect, but it is always there for you)
• Fabulous (this habit-forming app makes changing your lifestyle much easier)
• Calm (this meditation app is great any time of the day and can help you sleep better)
For more information about Women’s Health, or If you’re looking for an OBGYN in the Cincinnati area, call us at 513-241-4774, or schedule your appointment.