Many people look forward to the holidays and are excited about all the festivities celebrating the season. Others struggle with the “holiday blues” and go through bouts of seasonal depression. Aspire Counseling Services wants to help you understand the causes behind seasonal depression and help you to cope with the symptoms.
Seasonal depression is a diagnosed medical condition called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD and affects over 10 million Americans. While the specific cause of SAD is unknown, some factors include:
- Circadian Rhythm (biological clock) – in the fall and winter there is a reduced level of sunlight which can disrupt your internal clock and lead to feelings of depression
- Serotonin Levels – Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin which can trigger depression.
- Melatonin Levels – Melatonin affects sleep patterns and moods. The body’s level of melatonin can be affected by the change in season. Sleep deprivation can trigger depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed more frequently in women than men, and younger adults more often than older adults. There are several factors that may increase your risk of SAD:
- Family History – People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
- Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder – If you have one of these conditions, depression symptoms may worsen seasonally.
- Distance from Equator – SAD appears more commonly in people who live far north or south of the equator where there is decreased sunlight in the winter and longer days in the summer.
According to Health Research Funding, over 55% of people with SAD have family members with a depression issue and 34% with alcohol abuse. As with other types of depression, if the signs and symptoms of SAD are ignored, and treatment is not sought, it can lead to other problems and complications including:
- Social withdrawal
- Substance abuse
- School or work problems
- Anxiety and eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Now that we know the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder, let’s look at how to treat it and deal with the “holiday blues”. Treatments for SAD include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. Light therapy or phototherapy is typically the first treatment for SAD. Sitting near a light therapy box that mimics sunlight, with very little UV light, for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help reduce the symptoms of SAD. Many colleges located in the Midwest have students that come from other parts of the country who develop SAD for the first time due to the reduction in sunlight, so they offer light therapy to their students free of charge. Antidepressants are another treatment for SAD, usually people begin taking them a few weeks before symptoms typically appear in the fall. Those with bipolar disorder should discuss light therapy or antidepressants with their doctor first, as both can potentially trigger a manic episode. Both light therapy and antidepressants work best in conjunction with psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) with Aspire Counseling Services may be the best treatment for your seasonal depression. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you to learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, such as reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling activities. You will also learn how to manage stress and identify your negative thoughts and behavior that make you feel worse.
If you have the “holiday blues” and are suffering from seasonal depression, then contact Aspire Counseling Services today before your symptoms worsen and potentially trigger substance abuse issues. We will assist you through the holiday season and help you to enjoy the holidays.
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