Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Is It and How Can You Deal With It?

Asma Rehman, LPC

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs in the winter months, when the days are shorter and colder. It’s typically experienced by adults aged 20 and up, and is more common in women, but anyone can experience seasonal affective disorder.

In the winter, the days are shorter (meaning it gets dark much earlier in the day than other times of the year) and colder. Both of these have tangible effects on our bodies!

Have you ever noticed you’re sleepier in the winter? That’s no coincidence! It’s easier for our bodies to drift off to sleep in colder temperatures, so when our environment cools down like it does in the winter, we often feel more tired than throughout the rest of the year.  And the short dark days we experience in winter increase our brain’s production of melatonin, which is a sleep related hormone. Naturally, as we produce more melatonin, we experience more energy depletion and exhaustion associated with depression.

That’s why seasonal depression is so common in the winter–the weather is literally slowing you down and making you tired.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder has similar symptoms to chronic depression. This includes things such as:

  • Energy depletion
  • Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased feelings of agitation
  • Mental fog or trouble concentrating
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Feelings of hopelessness

What can you do to manage it?

Get more sunlight

If possible, get outside each day while it’s sunny out. If you’re able to take a walk during lunch, this is a great way to do this. That way, you can guarantee at least a small amount of sun exposure each day, even if it’s dark out by the time you leave work. If you can’t get it naturally, try to supplement daily sunlight with a Happy Lamp, which mimics sunlight for light therapy.

Consider avoiding alcohol

Winter is often filled with holiday parties with cocktails, but alcohol is a natural depressant, which can make symptoms of seasonal affective disorder worse. Avoiding it or limiting your intake can help you better manage any symptoms you may already be experiencing.

Be more social

This one is hard, because when seasonal affective disorder hits us, we rarely want to do anything other than lay in bed. But prioritizing social time can help manage the symptoms of SAD–which, like chronic depression, would just get more severe with isolation. Pick a buddy you can confide in about SAD, and let them know you’ll need an extra push this winter to get engaged and active, but that it’s very important to you to keep trying.

Talk to your doctor

Regular therapy and medication are also some of the most effective ways to treat seasonal affective disorder. Talk to your doctor about intervention and treatment methods that can help you manage your symptoms so they don’t get on top of you this season.

Interested in therapy? We offer both online and in-person therapy at our Houston office. Our professional and dedicated therapists and counselors are waiting to help you. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment for online counseling services if you think we can help.

Are you curious about what high functioning depression looks like? Our blog post: What Does High Functioning Depression Look Like: An Invisible Illness, explores this hidden form of depression and the toll it can take on individuals. Read the full article and discover the signs and symptoms.

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