Caregivers often get so busy taking care of their loved ones that they forget to take care of themselves.
Neglecting your own needs can take a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health and overall well-being. If you’re not careful, it can make you more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, when the season changes.
It is essential to monitor you and your loved ones’ emotions and moods during the winter. If you notice that you have more bad days than good ones, the first step is reaching out to your physician or mental health professional.
If you or your loved one was diagnosed with seasonal depression in the past, you are likely experiencing depression again.
Let’s explore the causes and symptoms of SAD and how to treat winter seasonal depression as a caregiver.
How is Seasonal Depression Diagnosed?
For a seasonal depression (SAD) diagnosis, your symptoms of depression impact your daily life.
Contact your doctor or therapist if you feel you are suffering mentally and emotionally. A health professional can give you a proper examination and use screening tools.
While it can be challenging to diagnose SAD because it shares symptoms with other mood disorders and medical conditions, an expert can spot it.
If your mood fluctuations occur with the change of the season, you may already have a good idea that seasonal depression is bringing you down.
If your depression has been ongoing for longer than 4-5 months, it may be a major depressive disorder. At this point you should talk to your doctor to let them know your depression is lasting beyond the winter.
A doctor can give you questionnaires, such as the seasonal pattern assessment questionnaire, or seasonal health questionnaire, to determine the cause of your symptoms.
These screening tools will ask questions specific to SAD to narrow down the reasons for your mood changes.
While no lab test can show what type of depression a person is suffering from, they can help find medical conditions that contribute to symptoms.
After a complete blood count (CBC) and thyroid panel, a doctor will know if you lack any essential vitamins, such as vitamin D. Many vitamins can affect moods and behaviors.
Thyroid disease and other diseases can affect mood, sleep, energy, and daily functioning.
It is essential to rule out other possible causes of depressive symptoms to receive the proper treatment and support.
How Common is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, you are not alone.
There are roughly 10-11 million people in the world diagnosed with SAD each year.
It is a common disease that stems from seasonal changes. While it can occur during the summer months, it is pretty rare.
Most who experience seasonal depression are hit hard during late fall and early winter. The days get shorter, darker, and colder, which leads to sadness, loneliness, and isolation.
Women, young adults, and people with other mood disorders are at the highest risk for developing SAD. As are those with a history of seasonal depression.
If you’re a caregiver, your risk of stress and depression in the winter is likely even worse. You can’t care for your loved one if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you can make a plan with other family members or friends, it’s best to ask for help.
The Symptoms of Winter Seasonal Depression
Not everyone will have all of the symptoms of seasonal depression, but you can see which are considered the most common below.
Take note that many of these signs are also associated with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, so it would not be wise to diagnose yourself based on this list alone.
Symptoms of winter seasonal affective disorder
- Feelings of depression, most days
- Exhaustion and lethargy
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in appetite
- Craving carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Isolating from friends and family
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling agitated
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
Specific to Summer Pattern Seasonal Depression
- Less appetite
- Weight Loss
- Episodes of aggression and violence
How Can a Caregiver Improve Their Winter Mood?
Fortunately, there are many effective ways to combat winter seasonal depression and improve your mood. Depending on the severity of your depression, minor changes may make a big difference.
For those with severe symptoms, you may need medication or therapy to help you get back to feeling normal. Talk to a doctor if the following methods are unsuccessful in changing your mood.
Try a Light Box
A lightbox is an excellent option because it mimics sunlight. There is less natural light in the winter, which disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm or biological clock.
Emitting 10,000 lux of fluorescent light, a lightbox, or sun lamp can boost your vitamin D levels and mood.
These are best used upon waking up and before going to bed. Set it up on your or your loved one’s night stand for easy use.
Prioritize Social Activities
Isolation does not help depression; it makes it worse.
It may be challenging to involve yourself in hobbies and activities when you feel down, especially as a caregiver, but it will benefit your health.
If you cannot motivate yourself, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn how to change your outlook and get you back out, enjoying the things you love. Taking care of yourself will allow you to be more attentive to your loved one and prevent burnout.
Staying physically active is one of the best ways to help yourself. The release of endorphins that occurs during exercise improves mood and well-being.
30 minutes a day is just enough to help you manage your mood and symptoms. Join your loved one in a ten minute workout, three times a day to make it easy and fun for both of you.
Keep a Journal
Writing down your negative thoughts can help you get them off your chest and change your perspective.
You will notice when your symptoms are the worst and what worsens or improves them when journaling.
A journal can also help you during therapy, as you can look back on your writing and discuss it with your therapist.
Reach Out to Family and Friends — and Let Them Help
Humans are social animals, and it is unnatural to stay isolated for very long. By reaching out to your family and friends, you may feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
Socializing with loved ones can make you feel happier, loved, and relaxed. Rather than hiding your depression, let them help you. They likely want to support you during difficult times.
If caregiving becomes too much for you to handle, consider turning to your family or friends for support and help with your loved one.
Volunteering can also help you stay socialized and cope with your depression.
Caregiver Support Groups Through The Kensington Falls Church
Our Promise is to love and care for your senior loved one as we would our own family.
Our highly trained staff provides support and high level care to each of our residents throughout all stages of their life.
For family and friends of our residents, we offer a monthly Kensington Family Support Group. We also extend our support to families and caregivers in our community with our additional support group – Caregiver Connect with Dr. Anya. This support group is on the first Wednesday of every month and completely open to the public!
These support groups can help you understand your senior loved one’s aging journey and help answer questions you may have. If you’re a caregiver struggling with winter seasonal depression, hearing from professionals and other caregivers may help.
We know the winter months are more of a challenge for you and your senior loved one, which is why we offer the most exemplary support and resources. The mental, emotional, and physical health of our residents and their families is essential.