What to do when winter makes you SAD

February 01, 2016 | by Terry Ciszek, LCSW, CSADC
If the cold, gray days and dark nights of winter get you down, you’re not alone.

Every winter, half a million people in the U.S. slip into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It feels like depression but the symptoms are temporary.

SAD is a response to the shorter days of winter. The disorder can last from September to April with the peak occurring in December, January and February.

People with SAD may have an imbalance of melatonin and serotonin — two chemicals that regulate a person's sleep cycle, energy level and mood. (We produce more melatonin when it's dark, which causes a person to feel sleepy and lethargic. We make more serotonin when we're exposed to sunlight. So during the winter months, we associate lower levels of serotonin with depression.)

Some of the most common signs of SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

People with SAD feel like themselves again by mid-spring or early summer. Until then, there are things people with SAD can do to feel better. Talk to your doctor about these common treatments:

  • Let the light in. Opening the blinds and letting sun shine in the windows will brighten your mood. If there isn’t enough light, invest in a light therapy box and spend time in front of it daily.

  • Eat right. Eating healthy food will help you avoid physical discomfort. It’ll also avert blood sugar crashes caused by too many refined carbs that can lead to lethargy and irritability. 

  • Exercise. Nothing brightens your outlook like a great workout. Try these cold-weather tactics.

  • Seek counseling. Talking about your feelings with a therapist can help you understand the problem and find a solution.

  • Keep your usual routine. People who experience SAD should continue their usual routine—including going outside and spending time with friends—even if they don’t feel up to it.

SAD is more than just the winter blues or a bad mood you experience because it's cold outside. If you feel these symptoms for three consecutive winter seasons, consult your doctor or a mental health professional.

How do you combat feeling SAD in the winter months? Share your thoughts in the comments below. You can also share this blog using the social media buttons at the top and bottom of this page.

Start your path to recovery today. Learn more about Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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