Share This

Winter Blues or SAD: How to Spot Seasonal Affective Disorder

The days are shorter, the nights are longer. It’s dark and dreary out—and so is your mood.

If the winter months get you down more than you think is normal, you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to changes in seasons. Usually beginning in fall and ending in spring or early summer, SAD can present in mild and extreme forms, and can impact your everyday life.

Some symptoms include:

  • Less energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Greater appetite
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Greater need for sleep
  • Weight gain

While the exact cause of SAD is not known, scientists point to a few factors that might be the culprit:

  • Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects mood
  • Lack of sunlight can disrupt circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock)
  • The change in season can affect the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood

More than 3 million Americans each year suffer from SAD, which is more common in women than men. To stave off mild forms of SAD, experts recommend:

  • Spending time outside every day, especially in the morning
  • Eating a well-balanced diet to increase your energy level
  • Exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times a week
  • Staying involved with your social circle and regular activities

For more severe cases, seek medical assessment. Effective treatments are available and include antidepressants, talk therapy, and phototherapy.

Phototherapy, which is one of the most common and effective treatments, entails full-spectrum bright light shining indirectly into your eyes for about 10 to 15 minutes per day, increasing in time depending on response. Some people respond within days of using light therapy, others take longer.