Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s that time of year again: snowmen, twinkling lights, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is in full swing.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a syndrome linked to depression and the annual occurrence of the change of seasons and daylight.You can experience varying SAD symptoms in both the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, although it is more common for women to experience these symptoms in the Fall/ Winter months. The lack of sunlight during the Winter months is a sure factor leading to changes in your diet as you start craving more carbohydrates and starchy foods (i.e. weight gain), overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and sadness, along with having very low energy and an increase in sleeping (hypersomia).

You don’t have to feel in the dark and alone during this time of year. Try one, two, or all of these five tips below to counter your SAD symptoms and help you feel a little more merry all year-round!

  • Bright Light Therapy (BLT)- To combat the lack of sunlight, specifically designed light boxes may be a good supplement for you. This intervention is a powerful one and you should definitely consult your doctor before practicing BLT as it can lead to adverse effects for some individuals. These nifty boxes emit full spectrum light (10,000 lux) similar to that of sunlight. 30-90 minutes per day is the usual recommended exposure time and best to do it first thing in the morning; you can do it over your cup of coffee or as you’re getting ready for work.

  • Exercise- Daily exercise year-round is essential to both physical and mental health, and multiple studies have proven the benefits of exercising and depression as it raises the serotonin levels in our brains. Here is another fun fact: exercise does not have to feel terrible! Choose activities that work for your body and your schedule. Maybe you dance, maybe you walk, maybe you swim or even run marathons. Just get moving! Trouble with motivation? Enlist a workout partner to keep you accountable or attend a class at your local gym.

  • Proper nutrition- Although those delicious carbs and starches give you a quick boost of energy, they eventually rebound and leave you craving more of those tempting treats. Try to limit these foods when you are grocery shopping so they won’t be in the house for you to over-indulge when you are bored and stuck at home on a snowy day. Hey, why not start the “New Year, New You” sooner?

  • Get outside- With the lack of sunlight available during the day, the serotonin levels in your brain drop which negatively affects your mood. Studies have shown a 30 minute walk outside decreases the cortisol levels in your brain and increases those happy hormones. Nature, fresh air, and some sunshine will do your mood some good, not to mention starting your day with the sun rising and some exercise will mentally put you on the path for a good day. :)

  • Therapist/ Medication- In combination with the helpful techniques listed above; speaking to a therapist or being introduced to CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) can be a positive outlet and allows you to speak freely of your obstacles to find ways to overcome them. Medication is also an option to those who suffer from SAD and should be discussed with your doctor.

Bailey C. Bryant, Psy.D., Owner of Hello Mental Health
Jordan Wheeler, B.A., Guest Writer

This publication is designed to provide general information prepared by a professional in regard to the subject matter covered.  It is not intended to provide psychological or clinical advice.  Although prepared by a professional, this publication should not be utilized as a substitute for professional service in specific situations.  If mental health advice or other expert assistance is required, the service of a professional should be sought.