Many of us may feel more sad than usual in the wintertime as the days get shorter and the temperature outside drops. We may feel like “hibernating” and isolating ourselves within the house. And to some extent, that’s what winter is all about! It can be a restorative time for us to hunker down and recover from busier times in the year. But when mood or behavior changes start to affect your daily life, it may be more than just the change in season.
We commonly refer to this seasonal change in mood or behavior as “the winter blues.” But there is a term for this – Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern, formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Two factors are directly correlated with the change in our mood and behavior as the seasons change: lack of sunlight and a decrease in outdoor activity/daily movement.
As the days get shorter and the sun starts to set around 5 pm, we are left with fewer daylight hours to soak up any sunlight. And if you work inside during the day or if you work from home, you may not see the sun at all!
In addition, the colder it is outside, the less likely it is that we are going to venture out of the house. Often, we tend to have less daily movement in the wintertime due to the cold temperatures and instead, take to hibernating on the couch. Winter can be a great time to slow down, but moving our bodies has a direct positive effect on our mood.
Here are some ways to manage the effects of Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. However, it is important to keep in mind that in some cases, therapy or medication may be necessary.
- Do a daily self-check-in.
- Ask yourself, “How have I been feeling the past few days?”, “How has my appetite been?” “What has my mood looked like?” If there was a reason for a shift in mood, consider if it was more of an external reason or if it was an internal reason.
- If you notice that someone else is changing behavior, such as bailing on prior commitments or not acting themselves, check in on them. Ask them how they are feeling and let them know that you care.
- Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. This can be a family member, friend, therapist, religious leader, etc. Even just talking about any emotions or struggles you’re feeling can take the weight off of your shoulders.
- Grounding exercises. Go outside and plant both of your feet on the earth. Pay attention to your breath and your surroundings. This practice, known as earthing, helps to restore the connection between the body and the electrical currents of the earth. Research on the topic suggests reduced pain, stress, and inflammation and an improvement of overall mental well-being.
- Walk outside. Weather permitting, go for a walk outside for a combination of daily movement and sunlight exposure. Even just 10-15 minutes can ease anxiety by activating both sides of your brain to work simultaneously.
- Become aware of any negative self-talk. Most of our negative thoughts are false and are stories we tell ourselves when we are feeling upset, angry, or insecure. Begin to notice when you speak poorly to yourself and “catch” the thought while it is occurring – without beating yourself up for thinking it in the first place. Reframe the thought with a new perspective on the situation.
If you notice these patterns of behavior in yourself, contact your Primary Care Provider. It is important to let your healthcare provider know how you are feeling so that they have all the information they need to put together a treatment plan.
- Change in energy levels - exhausted, having a hard time getting out of bed
- Loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed
- Mood changes – tearfulness, irritability
- Change in appetite
- Feeling hopeless
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Suicidal ideation - brief intrusive thoughts or mentions of “I don’t want to be here anymore”, “I’m tired of dealing with life”, “I’m a burden to others”, etc.
Signs of Potential Suicidality
- Talking about or making plans for suicide
- Expressing hopelessness about the future
- Displaying severe or overwhelming emotional pain or distress
- Worrisome changes in behavior
A seasonal downturn in mood and/or behavior change can be normal; Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern warrants support. Here are some next steps if you or someone you know is showing patterns of Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern and would like to seek help:
- Call Logansport Memorial Hospital Family Medicine at 574.722.4921 or Logansport Memorial Pediatrics at 574.753.4151 and schedule an appointment to see one of our Behavioral Health Specialists
- Contact your Primary Care Provider
If you or someone you know is experiencing severe emotional distress or potential suicidality and need support now, here’s what you can do.
- Go to your nearest Emergency Department and let them know that you are having a mental health crisis.
- Call or text 988 or chat 988SuicideLifeline.org. 988 connects you with a trained crisis counselor who can help.