What is Seasonal Depression? + 11 Ways to Mitigate It
In this article:
- What is Seasonal Depression?
- Establishing a Baseline of Good Self Care
- 11 Natural Approaches to Seasonal Depression
- Get Support
Seasonal depression primarily affects people in parts of the world with low exposure to sunlight for long periods. Affected people have a noticeable decrease in mood during winter months, and they often experience difficulty completing tasks, lack of interest in typical activities, and changes in sleep patterns. Good self-care and a comprehensive plan with your healthcare provider can help you get through the winter.
For some people, winter can be a moderately difficult time, and for others, it can be serious. If you have significant difficulties, please consult a mental health professional, or call your local suicide prevention hotline.
Depression is real, seasonal or not. Part of any plan for managing depression should include establishing good social support systems, eating a balanced healthy diet, getting good sleep, and exercising. However, sometimes these things are not enough, and you need more support.
Always start with your healthcare provider and mental healthcare professional for a comprehensive plan suited to your individual needs. Here are some additional supports to consider.
Melatonin is a well-known sleep support supplement. During winter months with shorter daylight hours, some people are more sensitive to the effects of melatonin or have abnormal melatonin secretion, which may give them more difficulty with seasonal mood issues. There is limited preliminary evidence that taking melatonin at bedtime may help reduce symptoms of seasonal depression.
Melatonin is generally safe, and good sleep is paramount in importance for general health. Talk to your doctor if your sleep issues are not resolving. Melatonin is only available by prescription in some parts of the world, but in some countries, anyone can purchase it as a supplement.
2. Happy Light, or Phototherapy
You can purchase a specialized lightbox to sit in front of in the morning to mimic natural sunlight during the winter. Some studies have found this helpful in combination with melatonin and other therapies. Certain mental health conditions can worsen by phototherapy; talk to your doctor about using one if you have concerns.
3. Vitamin D
Many know vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies make it with sun exposure. When daylight hours are low, deficiency is more common and can contribute to low mood. Studies have found that optimizing vitamin D levels in combination with other therapies can treat seasonal depression. Talk to your doctor about getting a blood test for vitamin D, as it is impossible to know if you are deficient without it. Proper dosing remains vital, as too much can cause harmful side effects. Ask your doctor about the correct dose for you.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Some studies have combined cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT, with some of the most common supplemental interventions for seasonal depression, such as vitamin D, melatonin, and phototherapy for added benefit. Ask your doctor to refer you to a qualified CBT therapist for a holistic approach to your mental health.
5. B-Complex, or Methylated B Vitamins
B vitamins include several important nutrients such as vitamin B12 and folate that often come in a single supplement. Research has shown that they may help improve symptoms of depression or anxiety in adults. However, B vitamin supplements should not be taken by people with kidney disease.
Inositol is in the B vitamin family and is often taken alone in larger doses. It is best known for ovarian health and fertility, but it also improves sleep, reduces anxiety, and improves mood. It may be helpful to use seasonally for low mood and feeling sluggish and unmotivated.
7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good brain health and mood. Deficiency remains common in people who do not consume animal products, as plant foods do not contain adequate amounts of some types of omega-3s. Research on omega-3s for mood is mixed because proper dosing is critical, and many products contain very minute quantities.
It is also vital to get the correct ratio of EPA to DHA, depending on your individual needs. Talk to your doctor about the correct dose for you. Caution should be used with omega fatty acid supplements in those with blood clotting issues or taking blood-thinning medications. Eating fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and shellfish regularly boosts omega 3 intake.
5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is well researched in the treatment of low mood and mental health. It can sometimes also help people with sleep difficulties and certain digestive issues. 5-HTP is not safe to combine with certain medications, so please talk to your doctor before trying. In some parts of the world, you can obtain 5-HTP over the counter, and in other places, it is only available by prescription.
Tyrosine is an amino acid, which is one of the building blocks of protein. It can help make more neurotransmitters that are needed to boost mood and increase mental alertness. It comes in many foods, including meat, cheese, nuts, grains, or supplement form. Talk to your doctor to be sure this is safe to combine with your medications.
SAM-e, or S-adenosylmethionine, is a naturally occurring molecule in the human body composed of an energy-producing compound of the amino acid methionine. Some research has found that it can help improve mood by supporting the production of neurotransmitters and may treat pain. There may be a genetic component to who is most helped by SAM-e, as it assists with methylation.
People are genetically predisposed to having fast or slow rates of methylation in their cells. Ask your doctor if testing for your methylation genes is appropriate for you. SAM-e should not be taken by people with certain mental health conditions or who take certain medications. In some parts of the world, SAM-e is available for anyone to purchase as a supplement, and in some places, it is only available by prescription.
11. St. John’s Wort
St. John's wort is a common mood-boosting herb. Some small studies have shown it may be effective at improving seasonal lowered mood in certain populations and in combination with other interventions. St. John’s wort has a high potential for interaction with many kinds of prescription medications. Talk to your doctor about drug interactions with any medication you are taking before trying this yourself.
Mental health can be extremely complex to treat, but getting the appropriate support in place can make all the difference. Supplements can be helpful in addition to professional support. Talk to your doctor about a referral to a mental health counselor and have basic self-care in place for yourself.
Enjoyable exercise, a well-balanced diet, social support system, and good sleep symbolize the most critical foundations. Please seek emergency services if thoughts of depression are extreme and unrelenting.
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