As the winter season approaches and days become shorter, many people begin feeling depressed, lethargic and overwhelmed. What some call the “winter blues”  might actually be a type of depressive disorder known as seasonal depression, occurring during the fall and winter months when exposure to natural sunlight is limited. Unlike the winter blues, which is often milder and more temporary, people with seasonal depression usually experience prolonged feelings of sadness and withdrawal along with a loss of interest in daily activities, such as going to work or school.

If you are experiencing feelings of sadness and inactivity for two weeks or more, consult a licensed behavioral health provider to determine whether you have seasonal depression. Click the link or call 301-251-4545.

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“Seasonal depression is becoming increasingly recognized by doctors as a serious yet treatable psychiatric condition,” says Dr. Marissa Leslie, Medical Director of Outpatient Services for Adventist HealthCare’s Behavioral Health & Wellness Services. “According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 6 percent of the U.S. population may have seasonal depression.” Studies have also shown that women in their 20s and 30s are most vulnerable to the condition.

Seasonal depression can be more common in the northern regions of the U.S., where shorter days combined with colder temperatures can trigger depression and a change in the body’s circadian rhythm. The lack of exposure to sunlight changes our body’s levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that are responsible for regulating sleep, mood and appetite. As a result of those changes, people with seasonal depression can experience feelings of hopelessness, irritability, anxiousness, withdrawal from normal activities, irregular sleep habits and changes in diet.

4 Tips to Prevent Seasonal Depression

  • Get at least 15 minutes of sunlight three times a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Make time to socialize with friends and family.

To help those experiencing seasonal depression, Dr. Leslie recommends getting at least 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight three times a week, particularly in the winter months. “Exposure to sunlight helps stimulate brain activity and energy and elevates mood,” Dr. Leslie says.

It is also important to establish and maintain healthy routines and stick to them year-round. “Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and creating a support system of family members and friends can help tremendously in maintaining physical and mental wellness,” Dr. Leslie says, “and prevent the onset of seasonal depression.”