What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons throughout the year. Usually, symptoms of SAD begin to appear during early winter and subside during the spring and summer. This is known as winter-pattern SAD. Although it is less common for people to experience an opposite pattern (whereby symptoms of SAD begin in the summer and subside in winters), it is possible, and is referred to as summer-pattern SAD. Symptoms of SAD common to both types include feeling depressed and lethargic for the majority of days, losing interest in activities one once enjoyed, experiencing changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, etc. Symptoms of SAD specific to the winter-pattern SAD are oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, and feeling socially isolated, and losing motivation to interact with others socially.
Ways to work through winter-pattern SAD:
1. Be aware of the symptoms of SAD. Often, people disregard the symptoms they experience as simply feeling ‘down’ or sluggish during winter, which prevents them from seeking help or taking proper measures to alleviate symptoms.
2. Make your environment brighter and try to increase your exposure to natural sunlight. Research by Melrose (2015) has shown that decreased exposure to light during the darker winter days impacts the body’s circadian (natural 24-hour long rhythm, which can contribute to SAD. Hence, making your home environment brighter or sitting in close vicinity to windows can help reduce the severity of and prevent symptoms of SAD.
3. Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps in the release of endorphins and helps relieve stress and anxiety. It may seem difficult to stay active while confined to your home, but even half an hour of walking, stretching, or yoga can be very effective in boosting your mood.
4. Stay connected with your friends and family. Communicating with your loved ones about your emotions and experiences can help create a positive support system and prevent feeling isolated through this season.
5. Seek professional help. If your symptoms get too severe and interfere with your daily lifestyle, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. Doctors may recommend treatments like light therapy or anti-depressants to help alleviate symptoms of SAD. Even talking to a mental health professional or counselor can be a source of emotional support, and help you identify healthy coping behaviors and activities that work for you.
- Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015, 178564. Retrieved from:
- Roecklein, K. A., & Rohan, K. J. (2005). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview and update. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 2(1), 20–26.