Most people associate spring with happiness and new beginnings. You’ve probably heard of the common practice of “spring cleaning”.
Seasonal Depression is a type of depression that gets worse during a certain time of the year. Most people associate winter with the blues because it is so cold, it is easier to isolate, and we get less vitamin D. Because of this, people tend to sleep more, eat more, and experience a loss of energy in the winter. According to Psychology Today, studies show that anxiety and depression are at their highest points in April. During spring, we change our clocks, flowers are blooming, and the sun is shining, so why does this happen?
SAD in the spring tends to cause mania, anxiety and increased agitation. Researchers believe factors like social pressure, allergies, and circadian rhythm changes can increase depression during this time. When most people are reaching a peak in their social lives, it can be a painful reminder of how those who are struggling truly feel alone. When everyone is seemingly happier and socializing more, it can be easy to feel alienated. Dr. Kathryn Klock-Powell, A clinical coordinator at South University describes people struggling with depression, feel like “everyone is happier when spring rolls around, except for me”. If you feel this way, you are not alone. SAD affects 36 million Americans.
Allergies cause inflammation in the body due to chemicals that are released as an immune response, which has a negative effect on the brain and mental health. Medication used to treat allergies can also contribute to depressive symptoms due to its sedative effect. Dr. Paul Marshall, a neuropsychologist said that research has shown that the risk for depression increases by 50% in someone with allergies, and the likelihood of having depression actually triples if you’ve been seen by an allergist. If you suffer from SAD and have allergies, talk to your doctor about non-sedative medication options.
According to the NIH, Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, and changes in our body and environmental factors can cause our circadian rhythms and the natural light-dark cycle to be out of sync. During spring we have longer daylight hours. This causes disruption in our normal sleep patterns. Sleep is correlated directly to our basic function, concentration, memory, physical health, and mood. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep issues may contribute to the development of depression through changes in the function of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Sleep disruptions can affect the body’s stress system, disrupting circadian rhythms and increasing vulnerability to depression.
For lack of sleep, one of the most effective ways to regulate your circadian rhythm is to get outside. Exposure to sunlight aligns our body’s internal clock and sends signals to the brain to tell us when to sleep. Exercising and keeping a consistent schedule is also extremely helpful! Exercising releases chemicals in the brain and can reduce depressive symptoms as effectively as antidepressants in some cases. It can be hard to feel motivated at first. Start with 5-10 minutes a day.
What can you do to feel better this spring?
No matter what time of year, if you are experiencing depression, it is important to reach out for help. Remember, you are not alone. Spend time with others and try not to isolate yourself. Creating a strong support system with family or friends and reaching out to your doctor to find a therapist is a great first step. There are medications, therapies, and treatment options that are extremely effective in treating and beating depression.