With the weather getting colder and the days shorter, many people start to feel down or experience the "seasonal blues." Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with changes in seasons. Most people with SAD have symptoms that start in the late fall and go away in the spring and summer (though some do experience SAD in the summer). It’s more common in people who live far north or south of the equator. That puts us in New England at higher risk.
The National Institute of Mental Health says signs of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day.
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Having low energy.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Changes in your appetite or weight.
- Feeling agitated.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty.
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
SAD may be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- A drop in serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin – a brain that chemical affects your mood.
- Unbalanced melatonin levels. Melatonin impacts sleep patterns and mood. The change in season can disrupt the level of melatonin in your body.
Sometimes the holiday season can remind us of friends and family we have lost. This grief may leave you feeling sad, anxious, or depressed. Look for ways to honor your loved ones, maybe by sharing stories or giving a toast in their memory. You can also create a safe mental space by turning down events that may feel overwhelming or cutting back on social media use. Whatever you do, know that your feelings are important and it’s okay if you don’t want to be festive.
What you can do
If you think you may be depressed, seasonally or otherwise, talk to your doctor. They can recommend the best treatment for you.
If the weather’s got you down, sometimes these tips can help improve your mood:
- Have a regular exercise routine. Incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your day can activate your neurotransmitters and increase your mood.
- Expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible. Getting natural sunlight is very important during the colder months. Try sitting outside for a bit during the day or even just opening the blinds in your home to absorb nature’s vitamin D.
- Try light therapy. When it’s a gloomy day or there isn’t any natural sunlight available, light therapy is a great alternative. First thing in the morning, sit in front of a light therapy box for at least 20 minutes each day.
- Connect with friends and loved ones. The cold weather may make you feel like staying inside and isolating, but the best thing you can do is spend time with those who make you feel cared for. Having a positive support network can boost your mood and distract you from any negative feelings you may have.
- Meditate. Meditation can calm your mind and release any anxious thoughts. After meditating, many people feel more at peace and relaxed due to a rise in serotonin levels.
Remember that SAD is very common and usually goes away after the winter season. However, if you feel overwhelmed by your symptoms or notice a major decline in your mental health, please know that you are not alone.
We’re here to help
If you feel overwhelmed by your symptoms or notice a major decline in your mental health, please know you are not alone. We can help.