As the temperature starts to drop, and we start spending more of our time inside, many of us start to feel a drain on our mood and may even feel depressed. Depression stems from stressful life events, genetic vulnerability, or medical issues. So why is it more common to feel worse when fall comes around?

What is depression?

Our moods swing naturally, and whether they’re high or they’re low, we all deal with them differently. Some of our mood changes become habitual, which affects our personal and professional lives. Around 3.8% of the world’s population is affected by depression. 

The main cause of depression stems from the amygdala. When you are suffering from depression the amygdala is active and has an excessive response to negative events. When depressed, the other functions of the brain react to stress negatively. This negatively affects your body and can cause you to remain in that state for longer periods. You must remember that depression affects people differently so you cannot expect one treatment to work for you even if it has worked for others. 

Some of the symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Mood Swings
  • Sadness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too much
  • Angry outbursts

If you are feeling any of these regularly, you can reach out to professionals for help.

What causes seasonal depression?

Often during the fall and winter months, we hear seasonal depression become more common, but what exactly is it? Seasonal depression, or in medical terms seasonal affective disorder(SAD), can consume you through the fall and winter months. Especially since during summer and spring, we can go out and release our frustrations or have multiple opportunities to repress them. However, when the fall and winter months come around, we tend to stay inside to escape the cold weather which makes us face the problems we have or keeps the frustrations we have inside. 

When the seasons change, our bodies have come to realize that they will not get the same amount of melatonin that they obtain during the summer months. When this happens it affects our internal body clock, which impacts chemicals inside our body that make us who we are. So the lack of light affects our brain and the way we process information.

If you are starting to feel low energy in these fall months, that’s your body naturally realizing that there is a lack of light source. If you also have difficulties concentrating and are seeing your weight fluctuate or some of the main symptoms you think of when being stressed, you should take into account that during this time your body is starting to adapt to its atmosphere.

Seasonal depression usually starts with low levels of energy, fatigue, apathy, and the main symptoms of depression. To treat seasonal depression, some options are:

  • Light therapy
  • Antidepressant medication
  • Speaking with a psychologist
  • Tryptophan 

Seasonal Depression is often self-diagnosed, but we highly encourage you to speak to a doctor before you make your decision on any treatment methods.

Let’s talk about Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is the study that our bodies work with nature. So we wake up with the sun and we go to sleep once it’s no longer out. This is controlled by a small area in the middle of the brain which is affected by both light and darkness. The main purpose of appreciating this is that it states that when we sleep we are gaining the energy that we burned throughout the day, and when we wake up we maintain that gained energy.

Can Seasonal Depression be prevented?

We know when it is coming, so are there ways to stop it from ruining your winter? The best way is to look into therapy or to avoid triggers that negatively affect you. Speaking with a psychologist can always help you with your mental health so you can work on strategies to handle seasonal depression. You can also look into antidepressant medication, however, you must contact a doctor to make sure that you are being as safe as possible. 

The use of your cell phone late at night can also contribute to your mental state. Especially when the seasons are changing. Our bodies are programmed to wake up with the sun and that source of light is altering our perception. This drains our energy and causes us to sleep longer and stay in a low mood. Turning off your electronics at least an hour before bed helps you dismiss the blue light and gives your eyes a break from those harsh rays. 

Light Therapy

Light therapy is one way that you can help alleviate the effects of seasonal depression. Light treatment is intended to imitate the source of outdoor light that is no longer there once the fall and winter months start. Being outside and in the sun does play a factor in determining your mood. So, when it’s no longer available it can change your mood. 

Light therapy is when you sit near a lightbox and the light can indirectly enter your eyes. This is not something that you can do for a quick pump of serotonin, it must be done consistently to get successful results.

Although it can be helpful, light therapy can’t cure seasonal affective disorder. It is more of a coping mechanism that can help aid you from feeling down. Starting this in the early fall can change your mood positively.

Wake-up Light

A wake-up light is something to help you wake up. You set the time of when you want to wake up and it gradually starts turning on the light. This helps because it can create a schedule for your circadian rhythm. This helps your body stay on a schedule where you can witness more light and it wakes your body up naturally, which helps your body become more adaptive to light.

Mental Consistency

Depression is prevalent in any season, but seasonal depression seems to come at a time where we are already overwhelmed. Depression is also something that you can’t stop immediately, it is a constant battle to keep your mental health in check. It’s not a quick fix, so you have to be consistently working towards developing a strong mindset. This is not a discussion on the negative effects of depression but how we can establish what we have, make changes for the future, and live our lives to the best of our capabilities. You are not alone. 

For additional resources, check out these tips to destress in college