By Jill Koval, Ph.D.
Shepherd Center Psychologist
Changing seasons bring changing colors – red, orange, yellow – but what about blue? Depression related to changing seasons typically begins and ends at around the same time each year. Most commonly, “seasonal depression,” as it is often called, starts in the fall and lasts throughout the winter. Women are more likely to develop this type of depression than are men.
The most typical symptoms of this type of depression are increasing sadness or worsening mood, avoiding family/friends, carbohydrate craving, increased appetite, weight gain, feeling more tired/sleepy, and loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyed. Other common symptoms include increased anxiety or nervousness, feeling more easily stressed and less able to cope with stress, reduced sexual desire, not wanting to be touched, low energy, difficulty concentrating, drinking or using drugs more, or thoughts of death or self-harm. People who are struggling with seasonal depression often isolate themselves, stay at home, shut down, and don’t engage in life or with other people.
Depression with a seasonal pattern is thought to relate to less sunlight, which disrupts the body’s internal clock and the production of certain chemicals in the brain. This is a real problem!
What can you do?
Speak up! Talk to your physician; there are medications that can help with your mood. Talk with a psychologist or a counselor who can help you learn how to cope better with stress, learn positive things you can do to help with your mood and help you to avoid “getting stuck” with how you’re feeling.
Brighten your surroundings! Leave shades or curtains open, and try sitting closer to windows with more natural light.
Go outside! The best time is within two hours of waking up, but anytime that you can is helpful.
Exercise! Consider joining a winter exercise class or sports team.
Try something new! Yoga, meditation and mindfulness training can help you change the way that you think and feel when your thoughts tend to be more negative.
Find a hobby!
Start a blog!
Ask for help! People who care about you can provide encouragement to do those things that can help you feel better.
Plan ahead! Learning how to manage your seasonal depression this year will help you to know what you need to do next year before it becomes a more serious problem.
In case of emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 800-273-8255
JILL KOVAL, PH.D., is a psychologist in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. She is a graduate of the George Washington University and has enjoyed many years working with patients during their rehabilitation programs.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org