Seasonal Affective Disorder: 4 Ways to Cope During Winter

December 20, 2021
2 min read
Seasonal Affective Disorder: 4 Ways to Cope During Winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. It’s more prevalent in people who live in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year. While the majority of SAD cases involve symptoms onset in the fall and winter months of the year, there are also some cases that affect people during spring and summer. 

What Are The Symptoms Of SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms typically include:

  • Feeling depressed (including feelings of hopelessness or guilt)
  • Feeling agitated
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Low energy levels, tiredness, fatigue 
  • Sleeplessness 
  • Changes in appetite (often weight gain and carbohydrate cravings)
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks, inability to focus 

Dealing with these symptoms can be challenging, especially if you don’t have any support. It is always highly recommended that you talk to your doctor about your SAD symptoms and discuss possible treatment options. 

What Are The Causes Of SAD?

While science hasn’t been able to give us a definitive cause of seasonal affective disorder just yet, studies have shown links between chemical imbalances and SAD.  The three common links are: 

1. Circadian rhythm

A circadian rhythm, or circadian cycle, is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Reduced levels of sunlight in fall and winter may cause an onset of SAD. It is believed that the decrease in daylight disrupts a person’s internal clock.

2. Serotonin levels

Serotonin is a brain chemical, often referred to as the “feel good” hormone. It affects mood and sleeping patterns. Reduction of sunlight in the fall and winter months can cause a drop in serotonin levels, which can trigger SAD 

3. Melatonin levels

Melatonin is a hormone released at night and dictates the sleep–wake cycle. The increased amount of dark hours that comes with the change in seasons, disrupts the balance and can lead to SAD.  

Risk factors of SAD include a family history, a personal predisposition to depression, and geographic location (people who live far north or south of the equator where daylight hours are shorter in the winter).

While it is important to speak with a healthcare professional regarding your SAD symptoms, you can be proactive by taking better control of your health and wellness and making some changes in your daily life to help you manage your SAD symptoms. 

Below we've outlined 4 treatments for seasonal affective disorder to help you cope during the winter months when daylight hours are limited.

1. Light Therapy 

Light therapy is a treatment you can do from the comfort of your home with the use of a light box. The concept behind light therapy is that it provides the additional light hours that aid in serotonin production when it's not present in our natural environment. You can purchase a light box without a prescription but it is important that you do your research when choosing a product to make sure it is safe and effective in treating SAD.  It is recommended that you sit or work next to the light box for several hours a day to respond to the benefits it provides. 

2. Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, is an important part of managing all different types of depression across the board. A particular form of psychotherapy that helps with SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors 

3. Diet and Nutrition 

Most people have heard the popular saying “food is the best medicine” and this is very applicable in treating seasonal affective disorder, as well as many other psychological conditions and medical diseases. There are a variety of foods that are known to have mood-boosting properties. Here is a quick list of the vitamins and minerals that are powerful allies in the fight against depression, and what foods supply them.

  • Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts, flax seeds)
  • Folic acid (leafy greens, oatmeal, black eyed peas, lentils)
  • Vitamin B12 (lean beef, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt)
  • Vitamin D (mushrooms, milk)
  • Antioxidants (dark chocolate)
  • Magnesium (bananas)

4. Physical Activity 

Exercise has far reaching benefits in almost every aspect and facet of life. It releases endorphins that reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being. It is particularly important in treating SAD because the benefits of exercising combat most of the symptoms associated with this form of depression. Regular physical activity increases your metabolism, which improves energy levels and fights fatigue. Plus, it is associated with a higher level of self esteem, a lower level of anxiety, and aids in sleep regulation. 

BASS Medical Group 

At BASS Medical Group we believe that the best way to serve the members of our community is by empowering them to take control of their health and wellness. We want to partner with them on the road to both physical and mental health and have the physicians, facilities, and resources to do that. To learn more, please visit us at https://www.bassmedicalgroup.com/