As the days grow shorter and the air turns crisp, many people eagerly anticipate the arrival of winter, with its cozy nights and festive celebrations. However, for some individuals, the changing seasons bring more than just holiday cheer—they can also trigger a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly abbreviated as SAD, is a type of depressive disorder that occurs at specific times of the year, most commonly during the fall and winter months. It is widely believed to be linked to the reduced exposure to sunlight that occurs during this period, leading to disruptions in the body’s internal clock and the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.

How to Recognize SAD

SAD is more than just the “winter blues” or feeling holiday stress. It can cause significant changes in mood and behavior. For example, for Sarah, winter had always been a season of joy and comfort. However, last year, as the days grew shorter, Sarah noticed a subtle shift in her mood. The time of year that once brought delight now seemed to cast a shadow over her spirits.

The mornings became a battle, as waking up seemed to require an enormous effort. The world outside her window, once a source of inspiration, now felt cold and distant. Simple tasks became monumental challenges, and the weight of exhaustion clung to her like a stubborn fog. Sarah found herself retreating from social engagements and isolating herself from loved ones. The once-vibrant colors of her life seemed to fade into a monochrome landscape. It was as if winter had not only settled outside but had also crept into the very core of her being.

Recognizing that something was amiss, Sarah sought professional help. A diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder shed light on the fog that had enveloped her. Armed with this understanding, she embarked on a journey to manage her symptoms and reclaim the vibrancy that had been dulled by the seasonal shift.

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you can relate to Sarah, you are not alone. About 10-20% of people get the “winter blues,” and about 5% experience SAD. Women, people who live further from the equator, and people with other mental health conditions are generally more affected, but anyone can experience Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If not addressed, SAD can lead to other mental health problems such as substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and even suicidal or self-harming thoughts or behaviors. The good news is that SAD is a treatable condition, and there are several effective strategies to manage its symptoms.

Shed Some Light On It

Light therapy, or phototherapy, involves sitting in front of a bright light that mimics natural sunlight (minus the UV rays) for a specific amount of time each day, usually 30-45 minutes each morning. Since reduced exposure to natural sunlight is a key factor in SAD, this can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve mood. Dawn simulators are another option. These are a special kind of alarm clock that uses an increasing brightness of full-spectrum light rather than an audible alarm.

Get Moving

Regular physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on mood and can be a valuable tool in managing SAD. Engaging in activities such as walking, jogging, or yoga can boost serotonin levels and improve overall well-being. Exercise is most effective for SAD when combined with light exposure, especially in the morning hours. So get active outside or simply enjoy the morning sunlight!

Stay Social

Social isolation increases a person’s risk of depression and can make symptoms more severe and longer-lasting. Surrounding oneself with supportive friends and family can make a significant difference in managing SAD. Sharing feelings and experiences with those you care for fosters understanding, social support, and even strengthens the immune system. To stay socially connected, also consider volunteering or joining a group or class that interests you.

Seek Professional Support

A healthcare professional can assess you for Seasonal Affective Disorder and recommend appropriate interventions, which may include positive coping skills, psychotherapy or medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It has been found to be effective in treating SAD by helping individuals identify and transform negative thought patterns associated with the condition.

Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the level of the hormone serotonin in your brain, which may help lift your mood. In some trials, certain SSRIs have been shown to alleviate and prevent the symptoms of SAD (Melrose, 2015). A review of studies also found that vitamin D supplements can improve mental health outcomes in “vitamin D-deficient individuals suffering from major depression with a seasonal pattern” (Sarkar, 2017). Of course, side effects may occur and it is critical to consult your physician before taking any medication or supplement.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can combat different forms of depression by helping a person develop nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment and loving-kindness towards self and others. Mindfulness practices can include sitting or walking meditations, breathing exercises, or simply focusing attention on day-to-day tasks and experiences using any of our five senses.

Seasonal Affective Disorder may cast a shadow over the winter months, but it is crucial to remember that there is hope and help available. Recognizing the symptoms, resourcing yourself, seeking professional assistance, and implementing effective strategies can empower individuals to navigate the winter blues and emerge into the light of spring with renewed vitality.


Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment, 178564.

Sarkar, S. (2017). Vitamin D for depression with a seasonal pattern: An effective treatment strategy. International Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Journal, 1(4), 91–99.