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Yellowbrick Blog

Dark Mornings: Time Change or Depression?

Yellowbrick depression - image source: shutterstock

It’s inevitable: The end of daylight saving time.  With winter approaching, things get dark.  Leaves, changing from vibrant green to an autumn spectrum of reds, oranges, and yellows, eventually fade. Dull, dry, crushed and withered, spread across the frosty ground, the leaves no longer serve their purpose.

Without sunlight to fuel growth, life becomes harder to sustain. People also face repercussions caused by the darkness of winter.  After turning the clock back an hour, it’s becoming pitch black when the morning alarm goes off, and not much past dusk when the day’s work is done. Just like the lifeless leaf, people start to feel gray, unexcited, and without ambition when encountering the darkness of winter.  As daylight dwindles, many brace for winter time depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Winter and depression go hand-in-hand for people experiencing SAD.  The American Psychiatric Association (APA) describes how SAD develops; the brain experiences chemical imbalance due to the darkness of winter. Without a full day of sunshine, the brain produces more of the sleepy time hormone, melatonin, and the body just does not seem to sink with it’s new circadian rhythm.  Take note- the APA warns that symptoms of SAD winter depression usually start in the emerging adult years, 18-30.

Pay attention to signs of SAD, like not wanting to engage with friends and family or feeling overly tired and fatigued.  Believe it or not, but craving and consuming copious amounts of carbohydrates excessively points toward winter depression.  So, if sudden weight gain surrenders your skinny jeans every winter solstice, the holiday ham might not be to blame.

Adjust to seasonal change and the depression it stirs from within. Figure out alternative fuel sources to get your body and your brain going. Diet adjustments, like eating to stabilize blood sugars and limiting alcohol intake as suggested in Prescription for Natural Cures Revised Edition; A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods, may improve depression symptoms of people affected by SAD.  Amp up your amount of exercise to naturally increases your energy level. (Yale Medical School) Try bundling up and heading outside for a hike or hitting the slopes with some friends to add some sunshine for further feel-good effects.

Sometimes solutions like change in diet or adding exercise may not suffice for severe SAD sufferers. People seeking treatment for SAD and winter depression often work with professionals to direct treatment toward the core of the problem- the brain.  Light therapy seems to be a go-to choice for treatment, imitating direct exposure to sunlight.

Another option targeted at titillation of the brain is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). This non-invasive practice treats people suffering with depression, who have not shown response to prescription medication in the past.

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