Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

If the winter months have got you down, try these strategies to manage the lows

Credit: Flickr / jaypeg21

Flickr / jaypeg21

The grey and drizzle during the winter months can cause depression

Feeling SAD? Seasonal affective disorder is increasingly common during the fall and winter months

The long, dark days of winter can cause anyone to feel blue from time to time. However, for some people the dramatic decrease in daylight in the fall and winter months can be a real problem, sometimes resulting in a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Researchers believe that reduced sunlight may disrupt the natural rhythms that regulate the body’s internal clock (which tells the body when to sleep and when to wake), causing this season-related depression.

Symptoms of SAD

Many SAD symptoms are the same as those linked to depression or bipolar disorder. If symptoms are present for two winters in a row (without any other explanation) it is possible that SAD may be present.

Symptoms include:

  • Increase in appetite (craving sweet and starchy foods)
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Avoiding social opportunities
  • Feeling anxious

A good indicator of SAD is also a sudden upswing in mood and activity level when spring returns.

Strategies to Manage SAD

 Strategies to help manage SAD include:

  • Getting outdoors more during the winter
  • Opening blinds and placing sitting arrangements near a window
  • Installing skylights
  • Increasing physical exercise
  • Resisting the desire to eat more carbohydrates
  • Taking a winter holiday to a sunny destination

People with severe symptoms of SAD may benefit from antidepressant medications, cognitive-behavioural therapy and light therapy – daily, controlled (usually 30 minutes) exposure to a bright, artificial light source.

If you consistently feel symptoms of depression during the fall and winter, see your doctor.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.