The fall and winter months are a time for holidays and celebration but for some, the season brings on a serious bout of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This particular subtype of depression has only been officially labeled since the 1980s. Though no one really knows what causes SAD, doctors have deduced that the combination of falling temperatures, shorter days and more time spent in darkness can spark a chemical reaction in the brain that triggers depression.

seasonal affective disorder

Many people get the blues during the winter months which is why a true SAD diagnosis is so hard to pin down. Medicine.Net suggests, “This disorder occurs in about 5% of adults, with up to 20% of people having some symptoms of the condition but not sufficient enough to meet diagnostic criteria.”

Symptoms of SAD

  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

If you just feel a bit off in the winter or you experience serious symptoms that affect your activities of daily living, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Listed below are 7 things you can do to help manage your seasonal depression.

Ways You Can Help YOU

  • Get Natural Light – Going outside from 6:00 am to 8:00 am every day or sitting in a sunny spot with the curtains open is believed to help the body shut off the melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that might be making you drowsy.
  • Light Therapy – If your state experiences endless days of cloudy weather, purchase a “light box” which mimics outdoor light causing a change in brain chemicals
  • Set Your Body Clock – Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, including your days off.
  • Avoid Carbohydrates – If a craving hits, opt for peppermint, chamomile or cinnamon tea.
  • Get Your Daily Omega-3s – Omega-3 fatty acids have been known to help the brain maintain healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine. Foods high in this happy-inducing acid include: Salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, flaxseed, hemp, canola and walnut oils
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine – Choose herbal tea over coffee. Alcohol can exacerbate feelings of depression
  • Don’t Hibernate – Though it  might be tempting to burrow under a blanket, research suggests that forcing yourself to get out and be social is extremely beneficial

For some, making small changes to their routine is enough to get through the season with only mild symptoms but others may require antidepressant drugs including venlafaxine (Effexor), Paxil, sertraline (Zoloft), or Prozac.

Whether you have the seasonal blues or think you may be experiencing a more serious condition, NEVER self-medicate and always call your doctor to report new or worsening symptoms of depression.