Some of us have likely experienced a sensation during the change in seasons commonly known as the “winter blues” where we become more tired, less motivated, and even sad. Many of us can adjust to the change in seasons and less hours of sunlight. However, others can be greatly impacted by these changes and can develop a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD”. It affects approximately 10 million Americans and typically occurs during the onset of fall or winter.
What to look out for
SAD is more severe than the winter blues and requires the help of a mental health professional. To be diagnosed with SAD, you must experience a period of depression that occurs with the change in seasons for at least a two-year period. Further, the depression must not be the direct result of a specific stressor outside of the change in seasons. Common signs and symptoms include a depressed mood, decreased motivation, decreased energy, changes in eating or sleeping habits, isolation, feeling bad about yourself, and in more severe cases, concentration issues, coping with alcohol or substance use, and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
The actual cause of SAD is unknown. However, it is believed that due to the change in seasons and reduced sunlight, our body’s natural clock falls out of sync. Without sunlight reminding our brain it’s time to wake up, we want to sleep longer instead of making ourselves get out of bed. This, in combination with being stuck inside due to the cold and wet conditions, reduces our exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and outdoor activities. All of which are conditions that can lead to SAD.
When to seek help
If you are concerned about experiencing SAD, it is recommended you seek the help of a mental health professional. In addition to the symptoms listed above, people should talk to a mental health professional if they are experiencing challenges with functioning in the home, social, or work settings due the change in seasons.
A mental health professional can help with assessment and treatment options such as counseling services and/or medication management. Further, there are various recommendations to prevent and cope with SAD symptoms. Practice self-care and take advantage of available sunlight, engage in interests or hobbies that bring you joy, continue to socialize with family and friends, maintain a physical exercise routine, practice healthy eating and sleeping habits, and approach the season with a positive mood. Other popular recommendations include asking your medical provider about taking Vitamin D, as well as using a day light lamp that gradually turns on and off, mimicking the sun’s natural effects.
In conclusion, changes in the season for some can come with depressive symptoms severe enough to result in SAD. However, with proper awareness of what to look for, and how to respond, this condition can be managed so you can enjoy the holiday season. If you or a loved has concerns about changes in mood or behavior due to changes in seasons, please contact a Lone Star Circle of Care medical provider at 877-800-5722 about a referral to one our Behavioral Health professionals.
Blog post written by Austin Cannaday, LPC
Lone Star Circle of Care at Ben White – Behavioral Health
American Psychiatric Association (2020). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/seasonal-affective-disorder
Cleveland Clinic (2021). Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
Psychology Today. (2022). Seasonal affective disorder. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder
Therapist.com Team. (2023). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). https://therapist.com/disorders/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
Very Healthy. (2018). 12 ideas to overcome seasonal affective disorder. https://veryhealthy.life/12-ideas-to-overcome-seasonal-affective-disorder