Chances are, if you live a notable distance from the equator, like at one of our New Hampshire sober livings, you’ve experienced the so-called “winter blues”. Frigid temperatures and shorter days can drag even the most cheerful person down. But what is seasonal depression – and how is it different? Moreover, how do you know when it’s time to seek help?
’Tis the Season for…Depression?
The term “seasonal depression” can be interpreted two ways. The first interpretation relates to the inherent stress of the holiday season. For some, the culprit may be clear. Perhaps the holidays have been tarnished by grief or loneliness. Maybe overwhelming financial burdens or challenging family dynamics are weighing heavily. Or maybe reality simply isn’t holding up to the Christmas card ideal. While some people can trace the link between cause and effect, the origins aren’t clear for everyone. Depression doesn’t always look like sadness. Many individuals don’t even realize they are depressed. If you’re unsure if you are experiencing holiday depression, look for the following red flags, as defined by WebMD:
Seasonal Affective Disorder
The second interpretation of “seasonal depression” relates directly to the Winter season. According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody”. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking note of the following symptoms:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having low energy
Having problems with sleeping
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
What is it about Fall and Winter that lead to heightened levels of depression? The cause is still unknown, but experts believe that SAD can be attributed largely to lack of sunlight. Fall’s arrival means shorter days and less light. Reduced light exposure can lead to a drop in serotonin – which is a mood regulating chemical – and increased levels of melatonin – which is the hormone that facilitates sleep. When these chemical processes are disrupted, the body’s natural clock malfunctions. Rather than feeling motivated to participate in normal daily activities, one feels, instead, like going into hibernation mode. If you already have a pre-existing diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder, the change of seasons can exacerbate these conditions, and this can be especially true if you are living at one of our New Hampshire sober livings.
When to Call Your Doctor
Sometimes we can underestimate the impact of the holiday and winter seasons. It’s easy to write off our suffering as a minor case of the winter blues rather than giving our symptoms the attention they deserve. Seasonal depression can become especially disruptive when one begins to have trouble functioning or turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive substance use. For this reason, untreated seasonal depression can precipitate relapse. Mental healthcare and substance use treatment go hand-in-hand. Structure and routine are critical elements of a holistic recovery regimen. If seasonal depression disrupts one’s typical recovery routine, substance use may begin to look like an appealing option. It’s important to seek help before your recovery structure disintegrates.
The Mayo Clinic recommends calling your doctor “if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy… [or] if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide”.
Treatment for seasonal depression may include light therapy via artificial sunlight or extra time outdoors. Exercise and meditation can also be helpful; both naturally boost mood and reduce stress. Medication is sometimes utilized to rebalance serotonin levels. Talk therapy – otherwise known as psychotherapy – may be used in adjunct with medication or alone. Psychotherapy not only provides a release for stressful and/or painful emotions, but also an environment in which new coping skills can be learned.
Are you struggling to stay sober through the stress of the season? We are here for you. Call (888) 649-1149 or contact our New Hampshire drug rehab online today!
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Use Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.