Shedding Light on Winter Depression

As spring nears and winter comes to a close, those who prefer the warmer months can attest that seasonal depression is genuine and experienced by many. Whether it be the decreased levels of vitamin D or changes in our circadian rhythms, what is suspected by many to be a fictitious excuse for sadness and isolation is backed by many studies which prove otherwise. 

There are many contributing factors to seasonal depression, including melanin levels. Changing seasons lead to imbalances in melanin levels, which play a role in our sleep patterns and moods. During the winter months, the number of hours between sunrise and sunset is significantly shorter than that of the summer months. This causes issues in our circadian rhythm or internal clocks, and affects our sleep schedules and moods. Sleep issues can influence the function of the neurotransmitter serotonin which can impact the development of depression.

“It’s harder to get out of bed and even after getting up just staying awake and alert through the day, you just feel more tired,” junior Leah Callison explained.

If you are feeling down this winter, there are many ways to combat seasonal depression and help make it to spring. It is important to push yourself to be social and surround yourself with loved ones. Social interaction is the key to human health and although isolating yourself and staying home may seem like the more appealing option, being social can help boost your mood and energy levels, even if you can only manage a small get-together with two friends. 

Exercise is another great way to fight depression. Physical activity activates the brain to release neurotransmitters of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and more which aid in regulating mood. You can even try to find a new workout class or exercise with friends, a perfect way to combine social activities with exercise. 

Limiting your screen time can also be beneficial to those experiencing seasonal depression. Many people like to use their phones before bed, whether it be a TV show on Netflix or scrolling on TikTok. However, this is very harmful and can contribute to depression. 

Looking at a phone screen makes your brain more alert and signals to your brain that it is still daytime. When our brains are stimulated by phones, melatonin production is suppressed and it makes it more difficult for our brains to “turn off” and allow us to fall asleep. This, in turn, can lead to an erratic sleep schedule which affects mood. 

Apps like TikTok have algorithms that know their users more than they know themselves. The “For You Page” delivers hand-picked content and an endless supply of short videos that grab your attention, which in turn delivers high levels of dopamine to the brain in a way that mimics the effects of drugs. 

For many, it is difficult to turn off the phone or close out apps that have this effect. After experiencing a rush of dopamine, no other activities can keep our attention or interest. The addictive nature of apps like these prevents users from finding joy in other activities away from a screen, and many tend to spend more time on their screens and technology during the winter months.

Spending time outside, connecting with nature, or engaging in fun activities that limit your screen time, especially during colder months can be beneficial for your mental health. 

Seasonal depression is normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and it is not untreatable. It is difficult to break bad habits or resist urges to isolate, but ultimately will help to boost your mood. As winter winds down, we can look forward to the warm weather that spring brings, and can continue to implement these habits to maintain a healthy state of mind throughout the entire year.

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