The beginning of fall often brings exciting traditions, beautiful landscapes, and comforting treats. But for many people, the shift from summer to fall also brings a change in energy levels and mood that may feel like depression.
According to eMentalHealth.ca, “Seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD, season depression or winter depression in North America) is a type of depression that occurs in the fall/winter months. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by summer, and is felt to be due to the seasonal lack of sunlight.”
Changing Seasons, Changing Mood
Many people experience some form of mood change as seasons shift from summer to fall. When there are fewer daylight hours and it’s cold, it’s harder to get outside and help our bodies naturally regulate our circadian clock using signals from nature. In addition, a lack of sunlight may deplete our Vitamin D stores, leading to lower energy levels and a decrease in our serotonin levels (a brain chemical that helps us regulate our mood).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Whether your seasonal mood changes are dubbed “winter blues” or the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder is a matter of degree and duration. Your doctor can help you figure out what your specific symptoms mean. In general, winter blues last a shorter period of time and do not interfere with your ability to complete regular daily functions.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “About 2% to 3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime. Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them only slightly depressed, but still able to live their life without major disruptions. People with seasonal affective disorder make up about 10% of all depression cases. There are some groups of people who are at higher risk of seasonal affective disorder…Women may be more likely to experience SAD. Some research found that women may be up to nine times more likely to be diagnosed than men.”
Fortunately, those suffering from seasonal depression have many treatment options available, both in consultation with a doctor and on your own at home.
Light Therapy (Natural and Artificial)
One of the most important tools for combating seasonal depression is light; increase your exposure to light, and many of your symptoms may dramatically improve. If you can, take advantage of the morning hours outside and soak up as much natural light as possible. To supplement, buy a lightbox that’s designed to mimic outdoor light while minimizing UV rays. Using the lightbox for 20-30 minutes in the morning can help restore your body’s natural rhythms and increase serotonin levels.
Aromatherapy and Meditation
Some women find that essential oils help combat depression. The exact mechanism is not known, but WebMD suggests, “Experts think aromatherapy activates areas in your nose called smell receptors, which send messages through your nervous system to your brain.
The oils may activate certain areas of your brain, like your limbic system, which plays a role in your emotions. They could also have an impact on your hypothalamus, which may respond to the oil by creating feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin.
Add to your list one more reason to exercise: combating seasonal depression. If you’re having trouble committing to a routine, reach out to a friend for an exercise date or join an online class. Even better? Exercise outside so that you’re combining added sunlight with physical activity.
Although eating a balanced diet is important year-round, focusing on your nutrition during bouts of seasonal depression is essential. Although you may crave more carbohydrates, make sure that you’re incorporating enough whole grains and vegetables to keep you feeling full and give you plenty of energy. To help combat lower levels of Vitamin D during these times, choose foods that are high in this nutrient, including fish and fortified grains. If your doctor finds that you still aren’t getting enough Vitamin D from food alone, add a supplement to your routine.
These wellness routines are a great way for women to stay holistically fit during the shift from summer to fall, so whether or not you’ve experienced seasonal depression in the past, try to incorporate these practices into your life today! And, of course, if you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression, make sure to talk with your doctor about the best treatment options available.