Preventing the Seasonal Pattern of Depression

 
Marking the transition from summer to winter, fall arrives with crisp days and colorful scenery. Meanwhile, as the seasons change, so often does our mood. We’re less active, more tired, and, as a result, more prone to feeling low.

As daylight becomes shorter, the impact of changes in sunlight intensity on bipolar disorder is noticeable. Clinical research has shown that even when symptoms are at bay, people with bipolar can exhibit disruptions in sleep-wake cycles and more depressive episodes when seasons change.

It’s important to understand these disruptions, particularly since about 25 percent of people with bipolar experience a depressive seasonal pattern, in order to mitigate the impact.

Research published in a June 2020 issue of the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders found that light therapy “deserves a prominent place in [bipolar] treatment because effects may be large and quick.” There are risks of mania or mixed symptoms for some people, however, especially if someone has rapid-cycling bipolar, so first consult with your doctor.

Even small amounts of exercise help to avert depressive symptoms. An analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry in April 2022 found that adults who took a brisk walk for what amounted to only 2.5 hours per week, had “substantially lower risks of depression” than those who didn’t.

Keeping track of moods can help identify seasonal mood patterns—something else to talk to your doctor about. A journal gives you an outlet to look for patterns as they first start developing instead of waiting until they’ve taken hold and are more difficult to recover from.

Preventing depression or maintaining stability comes down to what works best for you and your particular seasonal pattern.

“Unstable moods are a part of bipolar disorder and come in many variations,” says bp Magazine columnist Melvin G. McInnis, MD, FRCPsych. “Learning one’s own pattern and developing a strategy with your health-care team and family is an essential part of successful management.”

Read “Ask the Doctor: Why Do I Get Depressed Every Fall?” >>

Originally posted September 8, 2022

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