Fighting the Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Feeling blue? It may be more serious than a couple of bad days.

According to the article “Seasonal Affective Disorder” on the Family Doctor website, every year between 14% and 26% of Americans suffer from some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or winter blues. Between 4% and 6% of those individuals suffer from a severe form of SAD.

SAD is a form of depression brought on by the different seasons throughout the year. While people can be affected by SAD at any point throughout the year, SAD is most common during the winter months.

Symptoms of SAD

Some of the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depression / Anxiety
  • Irritability / Crying for no reason
  • Change in appetite / Weight Gain
  • Fatigue / Low energy levels / Oversleeping
  • Social withdrawal / Loss of interest in favorite hobbies
  • Difficulty concentrating

You may be at greater risk for SAD if you are female, have a family history of SAD or live in climates with harsh winters and decreased sunlight.

Available Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

For those who experience severe forms of SAD, there are a variety of treatment options available. These include (but are not limited to): light therapy, medication, psychotherapy. Light therapy involves exposing a person to an artificial light that mimics sunlight. Lights can be purchased for around $100 and are very portable and easy to use. Patients usually expose themselves to this light for approximately 30 minutes a day.

Note: While these lights can be purchased over the counter (or online), it is best to have a conversation with your doctor before usage (and use them as directed). Your doctor may want to supplement the light therapy with medication or psychotherapy.

SAD Home Remedies

For the remaining 8%-20% of Americans who suffer from a much milder form of SAD (often seen more as “winter blues” than an actual disorder), there are many lifestyle changes and at-home remedies that can be used to help bring a person through the winter months.

Outdoor Light – Studies have shown that outdoor light, even when it is cloudy and overcast, gives off more light than artificial light gives off in light therapy. Think about investing in some warm clothes and boots and taking a daily walk outside. When the days are at their shortest, consider using your lunch break at work to get in a mid-day walk. Keep your blinds and curtains open during the day and let natural light into your house as much as possible.

Exercise – Get your endorphins flowing! If possible, try to engage in outdoor exercise, but indoor exercise is better than no exercise at all. If you do not have a gym membership, think about investing in some workout DVDs. There are several free options online. You could create your own workouts as well, integrating different ab and arm workouts, stretches and at-home cardio (dancing, running stairs, jumping jacks, jump rope, etc.).

Healthy Eating – One of the symptoms of SAD is a change in appetite, very often having an increased craving in carbohydrates. Make an extra effort to put fruits and vegetables on your plate in the winter time. Keep a food journal to track what you are eating and drinking to help balance your food groups. Make monthly goals that include preparing new and healthy meals for you and your family.

Stress Management – Stress is a normal part of life, but learning how to manage that stress will keep you grounded during the dark of winter. Make an extra effort to keep your finances organized and your house clean and fresh.

Get Out – As much as the cold, dark days make you want to stay cozy indoors, get out and socialize! Make plans with friends, even if it is just getting together at someone’s house for dinner. Socializing doesn’t come naturally to people who are suffering from SAD, so making the extra effort (even when you don’t feel up to it) will pay off in the long run. Consider saving some money and taking a trip to a warmer climate partway through the winter.

Talk to Your Doctor – Nearly one out of every four people in the United States suffer from some degree of SAD. It is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Even if your symptoms don’t seem to be severe, a conversation with a professional is never a waste of time.

Take care of yourself this winter. Stay healthy. Stay happy!


Scroll to Top