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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

‘Tis the Season… for Seasonal Affective Disorder

"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" – John Steinbeck

Happy {Official} First Day of Winter! If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’ve probably been feeling the “winter blues” for a month or two already! Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that typically starts in the fall and lasts until the weather starts warming up and the days get longer in the spring.

How common is it?

According to MedlinePlus, struggling with other types of depression makes you more susceptible to struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

  • General Population → 0.5 to 3.0% of the general population experience SAD according to MedlinePlus and Mental Health America states it’s about 5% of the US population. Source

    • SAD is more common in women than men. Source

    • Mental Health America states 4 out of 5 people with SAD are women. Source

  • Major Depressive Disorder → 10 to 20% of those with MDD also have SAD. Source

  • Bipolar Disorder → 25% of those with Bipolar also have SAD. Source

  • Geographic location influences prevalence! “Typically, the further one is from the equator, the more at risk they are for seasonal depression.” You are much more likely to have SAD living in Iowa compared to Florida! Source

What are the symptoms?

Low energy is one of the most common symptoms but there are several other symptoms which are similar to other types of depression:

  • Low energy and feeling unmotivated

  • Not wanting to do the activities you normally enjoy

  • Feeling more tired and wanting to sleep more

  • Wanting to eat more, especially carbs, which may cause overeating and weight gain during winter months

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty

  • Feeling more irritable

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling down or depressed most of the day every day

To receive an “official” diagnosis, the National Institute of Mental Health states: “The depressive episodes must occur during specific seasons (i.e., only during the winter months or the summer months) for at least 2 consecutive years. However, not all people with SAD do experience symptoms every year.” Source An official diagnosis may also be referred to as: Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.

What can I do about it?

  • Light Therapy – Using a light with 10,000 Lux for 30-45 minutes per day (usually upon waking) can be very helpful. You can purchase one on Amazon here.

  • Talk Therapy – A mental health clinician can assist you in retraining your brain to view positive aspects of winter and work with you on behavior management through scheduling enjoyable indoor activities that will give you something to look forward to as well as identifying other helpful coping strategies. Fill out our New Client Information Form to get started.

  • Medication – Since SAD is similar to other types of depression, and often caused by a dip in Serotonin levels, taking an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) may be helpful! Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and possible side effects to learn if an SSRI is right for you.

  • Supplements – Vitamin D supplements can assist in replacing the Vitamin D you aren’t getting from the sun. Many with SAD have a Vitamin D deficiency so this supplement may be helpful for some. Research has mixed reviews on how helpful Vitamin D really is and more research is definitely needed but “one study has shown that supplementation with 5,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D per day during winter significantly reduced symptoms of SAD in women.” Source You can purchase Vitamin D from any store where supplements are sold or order from Amazon here.

  • Other Strategies – Exercise regularly, spend time outdoors when possible, let the light into your house by keeping blinds open, schedule time for self-care, make plans with friends and family instead of hibernating, and if possible plan a trip to somewhere warmer during the winter months!

In summary, having SAD can be challenging but there are things you can do to minimize its impact until it warms up and the days start to get longer!

The other good news? Today is the shortest day of the year and they will begin to get longer from here!

If you would like to work on managing your experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder, visit our Getting Started page and fill out our New Client Information Form. We are happy to help!

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