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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also commonly known as seasonal depression, is a type of short-term mental health condition brought on by the changing seasons. SAD symptoms typically begin to present towards the end of the fall season while transitioning into the winter months. Symptoms typically start to decrease when spring arrives, and daylight hours are extended. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 4-6% of the population experiences signs and symptoms of SAD, especially those who identify as women, have pre-existing mental health disorders, and are younger in age such as early adulthood and onward. As many as twenty percent of individuals experience a milder form of SAD also known as the winter blues.


Researchers theorize that SAD is heavily impacted by the following: individuals who experience difficulties adapting to less daylight hours and changes in their circadian rhythm, brain chemical imbalances (Serotonin,) Vitamin D deficiencies, individuals who experience more stress in their day-to-day lives, and an increase in Melatonin which can cause feelings of sluggishness and sleepiness.


Some common signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include the following: feeling sad and depressed most of the day, experiencing an increase in anxiety, weight gain, extreme fatigue and loss of energy, experiencing feelings of hopelessness, experiencing an increase in irritability and agitation, arms and legs feel heavier, troubles sleeping (either sleeping less or oversleeping), a loss of interest in activities that typically provide pleasure, or an increase in thoughts of death or suicide.


Although Seasonal Affective Disorder is short-term, it is important to treat it because all forms of depression limits people's ability to enjoy their day-to-day lives, spend quality time with family, and be motivated at their place of employment. There are in fact things that can be incorporated into your life to help decrease the severity of SAD signs and symptoms and those will be discussed below. The main interventions to incorporate into your life, which can help alleviate your symptoms include self-care activities and coping skills that can help individuals feel less sad, hopeless, and lonely during the winter months.


  1. Get more involved in hobbies you enjoy. This can include joining a bowling league, taking a cooking or pottery class, going dancing with friends, etc. Community engagement and social interaction is important to busying your mind and keeping yourself engaged in things you enjoy.
  2. Creating a self-care plan and routine. Self-care is key to putting yourself first. This can be as simple as setting aside time to take a hot shower or bath with Epson salts, going out to coffee on Saturday afternoons, getting a massage or pedicure, using essential oils and lotions, or even reading a book. Self-care is catered specifically to you and is what makes you feel calm and relaxed.
  3. Deep breathing and mindfulness. Research shows that doing breathing activities can help you self-regulate and feel more relaxed and calmer. You can find breathing and mindfulness activities on YouTube, by searching the internet, and even on apps found on your cell phone.
  4. Create a sleep routine. It is important to get the correct amount of sleep and sometimes when feeling depressed you might sleep less or more often. It is important to create a routine for ourselves to help your brain know that it is time to shut off. This also includes lessening your cell phone use before and during bedtime.
  5. Get up and move. When you are feeling symptoms of SAD it might be easier said than done to go out and exercise, but it is so beneficial to your physical and mental health. It is even more useful if you choose to bundle up and go for a walk outside to expose yourself to more sunlight. No matter what, plan to incorporate some more movement into your daily routine even if that means taking the long way at work or choosing stairs over the elevator.
  6. Talk to your Doctor or a Licensed Counselor. Sometimes it is important to talk with a medical or mental health professional to discuss all options. If you are feeling severe symptoms especially those that include thoughts of death or suicide, it is key to ask for help. You can also call the suicide hotline at 988 to get connected to important resources. Remember, it is okay to talk about suicide. Other resources could include reaching out to a clinician at Marcfirst's Behavioral Health Clinic, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or speaking with a professional through a Proactive Health Management Plan through your employer. 


About the Author:

Morgan Campbell is a Qualified Mental Health Professional for Marcfirst's Behavioral Health Clinic. There, she provides clinical counseling services to those with diagnosed mental health conditions and developmental disabilities. A Masters of Social Work alumni at Illinois state University, you can always find her with a cup of coffee, reading the next book on her TBR list, or spending time with her husband and service dog Zoot.

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