Seasonal Depression In Spring: What Is It And How Can You Treat It?

Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of major depressive disorder that follows a relatively consistent seasonal pattern.

If you have seasonal depression, you will most commonly experience depressive episodes in the winter months that improve by spring or summer.

These episodes can include symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, changes in appetite, and feelings of intense sadness or hopelessness.

In order to be formally diagnosed with seasonal depression (classified as major depression with seasonal patterns), these depressive periods must occur around the same time each year, with other seasonal periods where you don’t experience symptoms.

Have you considered clinical trials for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

How do the winter and spring types vary?

Although the winter type of seasonal affective disorder is most common, some people experience a kind of SAD where depressive episodes happen in the spring.

Seasonal depression in the spring is sometimes referred to as “reverse SAD,” and it has different symptoms, possible causes, and treatments compared to winter SAD.

Despite it being less common, spring seasonal depression is just as serious as the kind experienced in winter. Some experts even suggest it may be related to findings¹ that suicide attempts tend to increase in the spring.

Common symptoms

As with any mental health disorder, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in the spring will vary from person to person and within different contexts.

The symptoms of winter and spring variations of SAD tend to vary. The winter type often presents with

  • Increased periods of sleep

  • Weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Cravings, especially for carbohydrate-dense foods

However, the spring type tends to have almost opposite symptoms, including:

  • Insomnia (decreased periods of sleep or difficulty getting to sleep)

  • Weight loss

  • Anxiety and irritability

  • Reductions in appetite

Despite the differences, people who experience either type of symptoms receive the same diagnosis: major depression with seasonal patterns.

What causes seasonal depression in spring?

The winter type of SAD is thought to be caused by many factors, including lower levels of  UV light, vitamin D, and serotonin. However, the causes of the less common spring variation remain unknown due to how uncommon it is and a lack of subsequent research.

Below are some possible explanations for seasonal depression in spring.

Pollen

One explanation for these depressive springtime symptoms is an increase in airborne allergens like pollen.

Allergens commonly cause hay fever and other allergic-type reactions, but some believe they may also increase symptoms of depression in some people.

If you are sensitive to allergens like pollen, continued exposure may leave you feeling groggy, congested, and unmotivated.

Many studies² have found that people experience worse moods and depressive symptoms in periods where the pollen content is higher.

Some researchers believe inflammation or allergy symptoms may worsen poor moods. High pollen levels in the spring, in turn, may worsen or even cause the seasonal affective disorder.

Melatonin fluctuations

Another potentional cause of SAD is melatonin³ fluctuations due to changes in how much exposure to daylight you have.

Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone that the body produces naturally. However, increased hours of sunlight in spring decreases melatonin production which can throw off your usual sleeping pattern and cause insomnia and fatigue.

These symptoms can also worsen other symptoms of depression, such as low mood and irritability.

Individuals with spring SAD often experience symptoms that are opposite to those associated with winter SAD. This may be because spring SAD is associated with high melatonin production while winter SAD is associated with low melatonin production. More work is needed to better understand this potential link.

Major life events

Large, life-changing, and sometimes stressful events – such as graduations and weddings – commonly occur in the spring.

These events, in combination with other factors, may lead to depression symptoms in some people.

It has been proven⁴ that major stressful life events can be triggering factors in depression. Seeing success in others’ lives or experiencing a negative change in your own life may promote feelings of regret, worthlessness, or a lack of accomplishment.

Big changes may also mean that friends move away or have less time to be around you. This can lead to depressive symptoms which may be more intense in the spring months.

It is important to note here that the spring variation of seasonal affective disorder is less common, and so the above suggestions have not been fully researched.

Treatment

Any form of major depressive disorder can be debilitating and reduce your quality of life.

SAD in the spring can be even more draining than in winter, as it seems that everyone around you is becoming happier while you feel worse.

If you believe you or someone you love is living with the spring variant of seasonal affective disorder, it may be time to seek help.

Unfortunately, due to its relatively uncommon nature and the general uncertainty surrounding its causes, treatments often don’t specifically cater to the spring variant.

However, some treatments that help with more general major depressive disorders may help. These treatments include:

Antidepressants

Antidepressants have been commonly prescribed for major depression for many years. Major categories of this medication include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Many studies⁵ have also demonstrated these medicines’ efficacy in treating SAD. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional about which antidepressant may be right for you.

It is also recommended that these be taken in conjunction with other therapies, such as those mentioned below.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that attempts to identify and change the underlying thoughts and behaviors that contribute to negative life experiences, which lead to depression symptoms.

CBT can help restructure negative thoughts and help you cope with challenges more effectively. This therapy has a proven⁶ ability to treat SAD symptoms.

Better sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to methods that can promote longer and better quality sleep. This includes adjusting the temperature of your room, waking up at the same time every day, and establishing pattern behaviors before bed, such as brushing your teeth.

In general, you want to make sure your room is cool, and that your bedtime routine is completed at about the same time each night.

For spring onset SAD, one of the most highly recommended changes is using either blackout curtains or a sleep mask at night to ensure you produce enough melatonin. You should also aim to dim the lights two to three hours before bedtime.

Improving your sleep may not cure your SAD, however, it is likely⁷ to ease some symptoms, especially insomnia, irritability, and anxiety.

Exercising and eating healthy

Doing more exercise or even starting to exercise has been proven⁸ time and time again to help people ease their depression.

These effects could be due to certain endorphins that exercise releases in your brain, changes to the brain structure, or it may even be the social aspect of joining a gym or participating in team sports.

The diet part of this treatment may be more difficult due to reductions in appetite that occur with SAD. However, eating a diet similar to the Mediterranean Diet (many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) may help promote better mental health⁹ and higher energy levels.

Talk to someone you love

Although this may not eliminate your depression symptoms, it may help ease them.

Talking to someone you love about your experience may provide some useful advice or support in your time of need. At the very least, it should provide a feeling that you are not alone and demonstrate there are people you can rely on when you really need it.

Talking may also help provide you with some accountability when it comes to taking medications (if prescribed) and sticking to positive changes such as exercising, eating healthily, and practicing good sleep hygiene.

Some proven treatments for the winter variation of seasonal affective disorder, such as light therapy, are likely not to help with the spring variations.

When to seek help

While changes in mood throughout the year are common, and occasionally feeling sad is completely normal, if negative feelings start to disrupt your daily life significantly, it may be time to ask for help.

If periods of sadness begin to occur more often, don’t have an obvious cause, or become more intense and last longer, it is essential to seek treatment.

Help may involve talking to someone you trust, meeting with a mental health professional, or accessing any of the above treatments.

Taking action is especially important if your period of depression lasts two weeks or more.

If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, intentions, or behavior, you should seek immediate help in the form of emergency services or a suicide helpline in your area.

The lowdown

Feeling occasional periods of sadness are common and natural, however, if these begin to plague your life on a consistent basis, you may be experiencing a form of major depressive disorder such as seasonal affective disorder.

If your depression occurs most often during the spring months, you may feel alone or as though your feelings aren’t valid. It is important to understand that there are people out there who can help and that you are not alone.

Have you considered clinical trials for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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