August 18 2016
We have covered the overall topic of depression before; it is time to get more specific. There are many different reasons and types of depression; we know it can be caused by environment, chemical imbalance and/or particular life situations, but a rather unique cause for depression is the changing of the seasons. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D is a particular type of depression that happens when summer draws to an end, the weather gets colder and the days get shorter. The changing of the seasons can seem like an oddly specific reason to be depressed; however there are actually many reasons that can shed some light on why this happens. Speaking of light, lack of sunlight is a really big factor when it comes to S.A.D. It has been speculated and proven that one of the factors of seasonal affective disorder is a lack of vitamin D3 which is naturally produced in the body when exposed to sunlight. There has been new research proving that the human brain has vitamin D3 receptors and that vitamin D3 could be linked to the balance and production of certain brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Contributing factors to a lack of vitamin D3 in the body can be linked to shorter days which lead to less daylight as well as people generally going outside a lot less and having far less exposed skin to absorb vitamin D3 through sunlight. We also live in a generation where people are far less likely to do activities outside overall, especially during cold weather.
The symptoms for S.A.D are quite similar to most other forms of depression except that one of the most notable symptoms would be overall fatigue, both physical and mental. It is common for sufferers of S.A.D to feel particularly sluggish during the autumn and winter and this can be blamed on the lack of sunlight. During the day, our brains are far more alert due to the sun being one of our biggest natural sources of energy besides food and water. As previously mentioned, vitamin D3 affects the production and balance of serotonin and dopamine, when there is a lack of sunlight, there will ultimately be a lack of those chemicals but it is especially the lack of serotonin that can cause one to feel a lack of energy, especially if this person already produces a less than adequate amount naturally. Combined with a general lack of physical activity and likely some upcoming holiday stress it is understandable why someone could feel depressed during autumn and winter.
It is usually a good idea to try to find activities to do outside during the colder months, find a good balance between cozying up indoors and going out. Taking short walks outside, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, even building a snowman will likely help lift your spirits as opposed to binge watching a TV series all day. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as letting more light into your home by opening curtains or painting your room a brighter colour can have some positive effects. Having a healthy diet, as always, plays an important role for a healthy body and mind. Lean proteins, omega-3’s and foods rich in folic acid (oatmeal, leafy green vegetables, sunflower seeds, soybeans), vitamin B12 (lean beef, crab, oysters, yogurt, milk) and of course, vitamin D (fish, egg yolks, dairy) are very good at helping balance the brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels. For those who are not able to find these in their diet so easily, or those who want an extra boost, there are always supplements!
Autumn and winter do not have to be a depressing, dark time of year if you do not want them to be. Any type of depression does not just vanish at will; it is a real struggle that some people have to deal with. However, it is possible and very much within your power to find ways to make it easier to live with throughout the year.