When the weather gets colder and days shorter, it’s likely that everyone experiences some amount of depression.
But there’s a difference between the winter blues and depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a response from the body when sunlight is at a minimum. It is likely that the lack of melatonin, a chemical that is responsible for mood and sleep, is to blame. The easiest way to combat this is by getting some sunlight during the day. Get outside even if it’s cold or cloudy. Regular exercise can also help by reducing stress and anxiety and boosting your mood.
However, if SAD is not the culprit, you may have true depression. Some signs to look for are feelings are hopelessness, trouble concentrating, sadness, loss of interest, trouble with day to day activities, outbursts, irritability, changes in appetite, problems making decisions or remembering things, thoughts about death, thoughts or attempts of suicide.
According to the Mayo Clinic the cause for depression is still mostly unknown, but there appears to be a few possibilities. One of those possibilities could be that your neurotransmitters are out of balance. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in the brain responsible for numerous functions such as mood, blood pressure regulation, sleep cycle, pain control, and mental focus to name a few. Hormones can also play a part in depression. Think postpartum, menopause, or thyroid problems. It is also possible that depression is an inherited trait and researchers are still looking for the genes that may cause this.
Whatever the cause, there are treatments options available and the first step should be a visit to your doctor. Be prepared for the doctor to ask several questions like, do you have severe mood swings? When did you first notice the symptoms? Has anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with depression? But also be prepared to ask questions, such as are there any other causes for my symptoms? What kinds of tests will I need? There is a list with these and other questions on the Mayo Clinic website. Once diagnosed you can move to the next step in treatment which could be medications. If your neurotransmitters are to blame then you may get medications to help fill in where they leave off. Your treatment plan may also include visits with a psychotherapist to help understand and work through your conflicts. If you are looking for more natural ways to deal with your depression you might try yoga, tai chi, music or art therapy, massage therapy, or meditation. And even though it might be difficult to get in to, an exercise program could highly beneficial. St. John’s wort has also been used as a method of dealing with mild to moderate depression but can interfere with some medications. There isn’t a special diet that can cure depression, but healthy choices can make a difference. Foods or supplements with B vitamins can help with stress tolerance and energy. Foods with different kinds of amino acids are good choices, too. Avoid foods with too much saturated fat or sugar. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol since it’s a depressant on its own. Just be sure to see a doctor before you start or stop any new diets to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
However you choose to manage or deal with depression, make sure you see your doctor, make a plan, and have a support system of friends, family, or support group to talk to. And if at any time you feel like attempting suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Dial the same number and press “1” for the Veteran’s Crisis Line.
Be well, friends!