Do I Have Seasonal Depression? Quiz

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Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues,” is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, typically in winter. Understanding the common symptoms, such as fatigue, mood swings, and social withdrawal, is crucial for early recognition and treatment.

Recognizing Seasonal Depression

At Sterling Institute, we emphasize the importance of recognizing and addressing SAD. This condition, including work performance and personal relationships, can profoundly affect your life. It's not just a transient phase of feeling down; it can significantly affect your overall mental well-being.

Common Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

Understanding the symptoms of seasonal depression is the first step toward seeking help. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Mood changes: Feeling depressed, hopeless, or irritable most of the day, nearly every day during a specific season.
  • Loss of interest: A noticeable loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Changes in sleep: Oversleeping or, the opposite, being unable to sleep.
  • Changes in appetite and weight: Notable changes in appetite, often with an increased craving for carbohydrate-rich foods, can lead to weight gain.
  • Energy levels: Feeling fatigued or experiencing a loss of energy almost every day.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Finding it harder to focus or make decisions.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: These feelings may be pervasive and uncharacteristic.
  • Social withdrawal: A tendency to avoid social activities and a desire to isolate.
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems.

If you are experiencing several of these symptoms, especially with a seasonal pattern, seeking help is a courageous step towards better mental health. Contact Sterling Institute today to schedule a consultation and begin your journey to recovery.

Self-Assessment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Recognizing the signs of seasonal depression is vital. Our online seasonal depression quiz can be your first step towards understanding your mental health better. Remember, this quiz is a starting point, not a professional diagnosis substitute. While a quiz can indicate the possibility of seasonal depression, a professional diagnosis is crucial for an accurate understanding and appropriate treatment plan.

What’s the Difference Between Seasonal Depression and Other Forms of Depression?

While it’s true that both seasonal depression and other types of depression can manifest symptoms such as feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep and appetite, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, seasonal depression is set apart by its unique triggers and patterns. Some of these include: 

  • Seasonal patterns: Unlike other forms of depression, seasonal depression typically occurs at the same time each year, usually in the late fall or winter, and resolves in the spring and summer.
  • Light exposure: Reduced sunlight in fall and winter can trigger SAD. This is less commonly a factor in other types of depression.
  • Melatonin levels: Changes in the season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. This disruption is particularly noted in seasonal depression.
  • Serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. This drop in serotonin may trigger depression, more specifically seen in seasonal depression.
  • Circadian rhythms: The decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock or circadian rhythms, leading to feelings of depression, a characteristic more pronounced in seasonal depression.

Recognizing and understanding these differences helps to ensure that patients receive the most effective care for their specific type of depression. 

What is Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Typcialy when we think of seasonal depression, we associate this with the typical “wintertime blues.” This is the most straightforward type of SAD. However, around 15% of people with SAD do not experience straightforward "wintertime blues." Instead they may suffer from either reverse SAD, also known as "summertime blues,” or depression and anxiety in the fall and spring. This can be due not so much to the absence of full spectrum light but its rapid decrease or increase, a change that levels out in both summer and winter.

Why Choose Sterling Institute for Seasonal Depression Treatment?

  • Expert team: Our team of experienced mental health professionals is specialized in diagnosing and treating seasonal depression.
  • Personalized care: We believe in a personalized approach, ensuring each patient receives a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to their needs.
  • Innovative therapies: Alongside traditional treatments, we offer innovative therapies such as ketamine therapy and TMS
  • Supportive environment: Our in-person and online experiences are designed to provide a warm, welcoming, and supportive environment for all our patients.
  • Telehealth services: We offer telehealth services for convenience and continuous care, allowing you to access therapy and consultations from the comfort of your home.

At Sterling Institute, we believe in empowering you to take control of your mental health. Our dedicated team is here to support you every step of the way. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Call 475-348-8866.

7 Ways to Cope with Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression symptoms can significantly impact one's mood and overall well-being, especially during the shorter, darker days of fall and winter. For some, experiencing these symptoms is inevitable. In addition to seeking professional help for comprehensive treatment, there are several effective strategies that individuals can adopt on their own to help manage and alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression.

1. Maximize Natural Light Exposure

  • Spend Time Outdoors: Even on cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you spend some time outside within the first two hours after waking up.
  • Rearrange Indoor Spaces: Position seating areas near windows to maximize exposure to natural light during the day.

2. Light Therapy

  • Light Boxes: Consider using a light therapy box, which mimics outdoor light and can be particularly effective if used consistently, typically in the morning.

3. Maintain a Regular Schedule

  • Consistent Sleep Patterns: Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  • Structured Daily Routine: A set routine can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve your mood.

4. Exercise and Physical Activity

  • Regular Exercise: Engaging in physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can reduce symptoms of depression and improve mood.
  • Outdoor Activities: Walking, jogging, or cycling outdoors can combine exercise with sunlight exposure.

5. Diet and Nutrition

  • Balanced Diet: Eating a well-balanced diet can help maintain energy levels and overall health.
  • Limit Sugars and Carbs: Reducing the intake of high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods can help prevent mood swings and energy crashes.

6. Stay Connected

  • Social Interaction: Keeping in touch with friends and family can help combat the feelings of isolation that often accompany Seasonal Depression.
  • Join Support Groups: Participating in support groups or community activities can provide social support and a sense of belonging.

7. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

  • Mindfulness Practices: Meditation, yoga, and tai chi can reduce stress and improve mental well-being.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Practices like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
  • Cozy Atmosphere: Make your living space more comfortable and relaxing – use warm blankets, soft lighting, and perhaps even a bit of indoor greenery.
  • Engage in Enjoyable Activities: Dedicate time to hobbies or activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good.

Remember, while these self-help strategies can be a helpful aspect of managing seasonal depression, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. If your symptoms persist or worsen, it's essential to seek help from a healthcare professional. 

Treatment for Seasonal Depression at Sterling Institute

At Sterling Institute, we address the complexities of SAD with a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, offering a range of state-of-the-art treatments. Recognizing the diverse needs of our patients, we integrate both traditional and advanced therapeutic modalities to offer personalized care.

  • Psychotherapy: Individualized therapy sessions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), are geared towards addressing cognitive patterns contributing to SAD.
  • Medication management: When necessary, our psychiatrists may recommend and manage antidepressants or other relevant medications tailored to your specific needs and health profile.
  • Ketamine treatment: For patients who haven't responded to traditional treatments, ketamine therapy can be an effective option, providing rapid relief from depressive symptoms.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): A non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, TMS is another advanced treatment option for SAD, particularly when other treatments have been ineffective.

… And more. We are deeply committed to your journey towards better mental health at Sterling Institute. With our comprehensive and individualized approach, we strive to offer the most effective care for those suffering from seasonal depression. Our goal is to treat symptoms and empower you towards sustained well-being and improved quality of life.

Ready to embark on your journey towards better mental health? Contact Sterling Institute today. Your well-being is our priority.

Additional Resources: SAD Lamp Instructions

Summary: Correct Lamp, 30 min. daily, 2’ away max, straight ahead

  1. Most people who use these lamps use them incorrectly and they are then ineffective. So please follow to the letter!
  2. Lamp: Your lamp must have a total light output of “10,000 Lux”. 5,000 Lux lights require twice the amount of time for the same effect.
  3. Bulbs: Its bulb(s) must put out “natural spectrum” or “full spectrum” light (which mimics the spectrum of the sun). Other kinds of bulbs produce light that will be ineffective.
  4. You can purchase the ideal lamp—the one used in many research studies—from Amazon. It is called the “Nature Bright Sun Touch” lamp and it sells for ca. $50-$65 (the price fluctuates). It is one of the best yet one of least expensive SAD lamps. Fancier and more costly lamps are unnecessary and often less effective.
  5. Time: You should use the lamp correctly, as described below, a total of 30 minutes every day.
  6. When? Start using the lamp daily September 21 and stop March 21. Sept 21 is halfway to the darkest day of the year and March 21 halfway to the lightest. This means you will be using it for entire “dark” half of the year. This fits the most common form of SAD. Your doctor may suggest a different schedule if you have one of the less common variants.
  7. Why? With respect to mood, the brain responds to seasonal changes in sunlight in three ways: (a) Total amount of sunlight absorbed by the eyes and the skin (b) Proportion of each color (wavelength) absorbed and (c) The length of daylight time. At the height of summer (June 21 with respect to light, not temperature!), the distribution of colors is “sunniest”, the intensity of sunlight is at its greatest and the time between the beginning of light (dawn) and the end of light (dusk) is at its longest. A good SAD lamp optimizes the artificial equivalent of (b) by putting out a spectrum of light that most closely matches the sun’s on June 21. Your use of the lamp must optimize the equivalent (a) the amount of light you absorb and perhaps also an artificial version of (c), the length of daylight. 85% of a lamp’s effect comes from optimizing the first and is easily controllable by you. The remaining 15% comes from (c) which is more difficult but fortunately less important.
  8. Optimizing the total light absorbed = Intensity X Total Time. If the light is used properly,  then 30 minutes will maximize its benefit. Here is what to do:
    1. Place the lamp no more than two feet away.
    2. The lamp should face you directly, and not from an angle.
    3. The light should shine directly onto your face.
    4. Do not look at the light but cast your eyes down, like reading something, for example, which you can do during.
  9. Common mistakes to avoid:
    1. Light intensity falls off not proportional to its distance but to the square of its distance. If you double the distance you must quadruple the time. At two feet directly ahead of you 30 minutes is enough. At four feet you’ll need two hours.
    2. Light intensity falls off as the cosine of its incident angle. If you place lamp 60 degrees off straight ahead, you will get 50% of its intensity. At that angle and two feet away you would need an hour.
    3. If you place the lamp conveniently four feet away at a 60 degree angle you’ll need to use it for four hours to get the effect. People who buy 5,000 lux lamps and place it that way would need eight hours. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get anything out of the kind you hang on your wall.
  10.  Optimizing the artificial length-of-day. As noted, about 15% of the effect of sunlight comes from the length of time from dawn to dusk. This is shortest December 21 and longest June 21. You can trick the brain into gaining this extra 15 percent effect by using the lamp to create an early artificial dawn and a late artificial dusk. Do this by splitting the 30 minute total time into a 15 minute morning segment and a 15 minute evening segment. But this will only work if you can make the morning segment just before it is fully light and the evening segment just before it is fully dark. Most people cannot fit this into their schedule, especially after daylight savings time which is when it would be the most needed. But don’t be too concerned: If you take good care to do 1. through 9. you will do well.
  11. SAD and related mood variability. SAD is one of a closely related family of mood conditions without sharp boundaries between any of them. These include all the various degrees of “bipolarity”, seamlessly, from that typical of most people to extreme forms of manic-depression or “bipolar disorder”. The more severe one’s mood variability, the more sensitive it tends to be any biological cycle or disruption. Major examples include seasonal variability, premenstrual mood changes, nocturnal anxiety and sleep-cycle disruption post-partum depression and severe mood changes accompanying jet-lag.  The closer one’s condition falls in the bipolar direction the more sensitive it is likely to be to the use of SAD lamps. For some people, 30 minutes is too long and may actually trigger a hypomanic state and the time should be shortened to the point that this does not happen. No one should use the lamp immediately before sleep as it is likely to make it hard to fall asleep.

FAQs on Seasonal Depression

What are the main symptoms of seasonal depression?

SAD typically includes symptoms like persistent low mood, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns (usually oversleeping), changes in appetite or weight (often increased craving for carbohydrates), and difficulty concentrating.

How long does seasonal affective disorder last?

The duration of seasonal depression symptoms varies, but it usually begins in late fall or early winter and continues until the spring. The symptoms tend to resolve as daylight hours increase.

What time of year is anxiety worse?

Anxiety can worsen during periods of high stress or significant changes, which for many people can be during the holiday season or times of significant personal change. However, anxiety patterns can vary greatly from person to person.

Does vitamin D help with seasonal depression?

Vitamin D is believed to be associated with serotonin activity, and low levels have been linked to depressive symptoms. Supplementing vitamin D, especially during the darker winter months, may help improve mood and manage depression symptoms.

Which hormone is responsible for depression?

While no single hormone is solely responsible for depression, imbalances in serotonin, cortisol, and melatonin levels are often associated with depressive symptoms. Hormonal changes have been known to affect mood and emotional well-being.

Why do I get anxious at certain times of the year?

Anxiety can be triggered by specific times of the year due to a variety of factors, such as stress during holidays, seasonal changes that affect mood and energy levels, or negative associations with certain times of the year based on past experiences.

Is there seasonal anxiety?

Yes, some individuals experience seasonal patterns in their anxiety, similar to seasonal affective disorder. This can be due to changes in daylight, weather, and lifestyle routines with different seasons.

Can seasons affect anxiety?

Yes, seasons can affect anxiety. Changes in daylight hours, weather conditions, and seasonal activities can impact mood and anxiety levels. For example, shorter days in winter can increase feelings of anxiety and stress in some individuals.

What time of year is the most stressful?

The most stressful time of year can vary for each person, but the holiday season (November to January) is considered stressful for most people. A 2018 study found that 88% of Americans reported feeling stressed during the holiday. This may be due to increased social obligations, financial pressures, and disruptions to regular routines. 

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