Colder weather, less daylight and seasonal changes can affect your overall mood, leading to depression or seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, affecting about 11 million across the U.S. annually.
WebMD Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Whyte said the rounds of rain across the Northeast may have people feeling the seasonal blues earlier this year.
"With all this rain in certain areas of the country, I'm not surprised that people are starting to feel down and depressed now rather than, you know, in a few more weeks or months," Whyte said.
Doctors are still trying to understand all elements of SAD, including why some people suffer from it and others do not. Whyte said it is likely triggered by a hormonal imbalance. As people are exposed to less sunlight, it affects the levels of melatonin and, in turn, disrupts sleep, causing other symptoms of seasonal depression.
"If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Your melatonin, your serotonin, your cortisol levels are out of balance, and that's changing your mood and making you feel tired, depressed, sad, losing weight, no interest in things," Whyte said. "It's not in your head. There's a reason why, physiologically, and in your brain, that you're feeling these emotions."
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
It's important to know that the "winter blues" could be a diagnosable seasonal affective disorder, and knowing the signs can help combat negative feelings.
Lack of appetite, weight loss, overall changes in your mood, feelings of sadness and lack of sleep are all signs of seasonal depression. To find out if what you are experiencing is SAD, there are self-assessments online that can help identify it.
According to D'AMORE Health, about 5% of the population, or 1 in 50 people, suffers from seasonal depression.
What are the treatments for SAD?
Whyte said a healthy diet and exercise can go a long way to treating seasonal depression.
"Physical activity always releases those endorphins that make us feel good. So that's going to help your mood in the first place," Whyte said.
Other treatments include using a light box to replicate the vitamin D-producing sunlight your body needs.
"It's not just going in a room and turning the lights on," Whyte said.
According to the Yale School of Medicine, exposure to bright light at 10,000 lux seven days a week for 30 minutes before 8 a.m. can help improve SAD symptoms for most patients.
Getting natural sunlight when possible is also another treatment. This can be sitting by a sunny window or outside for a little while.
"The key is that sunlight, that light that's going to help address your mood," Whyte said.
Meanwhile, others will need professional help in addition to the treatment options listed above. A psychologist or psychiatrist will help determine a treatment plan and any possible medication.
Too much sunlight can also cause seasonal depression
Seasonal affective disorder also happens as a result of too much sunlight. Starting in spring, nearly 2 million people experience summer blues when daylight lasts 10 to 12 hours. Most of these patients are closer to the equator, and symptoms can include feeling agitated and anxious, having no appetite, weight loss, having trouble sleeping, and violent or explosive behavior.