Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, typically begins to manifest in October or November and often lifts in March or April. While a clear-cut cause has not been determined, studies show that people with SAD have decreased levels of serotonin in their blood.
Research also suggests that sunlight affects levels of molecules that help maintain normal serotonin levels. Shorter daylight hours may prevent these molecules from functioning properly, contributing to decreased serotonin levels in the winter. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, vitamin D deficiency, which is more likely to occur during the winter months, may also contribute. Some studies also show that too much melatonin can contribute to SAD.
Millions of people experience some level of “winter blues,” from a mild sense of sadness or sluggishness, to severe depression, self-isolation, fatigue, weight gain and other symptoms. More women than men experience SAD. Diagnosis is made based on the patient’s self-report of symptoms and the timing of their onset.
Treatment of SAD can include:
- Light therapy
- Antidepressant medication
- Vitamin D
If it feels like you may be experiencing SAD, start by talking to your healthcare provider. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, here are some ways to combat SAD:
- First, talk to your healthcare provider, especially if you’ve experienced SAD in previous years.
- Spend more time outdoors.
- Increase physical activity.
- Use a lightbox or dawn simulator.
- Keep a consistent schedule.
- Keep, or start, a journal or find some other creative outlet.
- Some studies suggest aromatherapy can be helpful.
- If your symptoms don’t improve or become worse, consider psychotherapy and/or antidepressants. And if you experience a crisis, don’t hesitate to call 988.
The short days of winter don’t have to make us blue. If we embrace the season and take reasonable steps to take care of ourselves it can be a season filled with wonder and beauty.