The Best Winter Wellness Advice for Understanding and Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

By: Kimberly Hayes, Chief Blogger at

Do the dark days of wintertime seem to bring you down?  You might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.  Thankfully, there are several symptoms to help with identifying the concern, and also a number of methods for helping you feel better.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?  What used to be thought of as the “wintertime blues” received official recognition in the 1980s.  As Medical News Today explains, people who live far from the equator can experience a form of depression due to the reduced amount of daylight during the winter months.  The most common indicators come in the form of lethargy, social withdrawal, and a mood to match the dreary days.  Other possible symptoms include issues such as weakened immune system function, reduced libido, inability to concentrate, overeating, weight gain, abuse of substances, feelings of anxiety or guilt, and sleeping too much or too little.  

More energy, better mood.  There are useful activities which help counteract the sluggish, low feeling that comes along with SAD.  For one thing, instead of heeding the call to hibernate, getting outside more often can be a boon.  Our bodies release a feel-good chemical called serotonin when we spend time in the sun, hence the connection to the darkest time of the year.  Getting less sun can mean less serotonin.  Along those same lines, spending time with friends and family can remind you of those important social bonds and how valued you are, so ensure you connect with loved ones.  Another point to bear in mind is that your gut health is at the center of your overall health, and when it becomes off-balance, it can make you feel poorly in many ways.  Adding a supplement or refocusing your diet can help bring things back into balance.  Journaling also can boost your mood, providing the opportunity to sort your emotions and gain perspective.  Also consider adding meditation to your routine, as it’s an activity anyone can do, and it’s shown to help your mental health in important ways, such as improving your brain’s wiring, enhancing your sense of self, and happier, more positive feelings. 

Therapy options.  Outside of self-treatment, there are several therapies you can discuss with your doctor.  Light therapy is a common option for helping those suffering with SAD.  Just as it sounds, lights are used to alleviate symptoms by mimicking sunlight.  However, these are specialized lights, and if you don’t see improvement within a few days of use, you should contact your doctor about other options.  Behavioral therapy and counseling are also viable treatments for SAD sufferers, and there are medications which can help as well. 

Likelihood of SAD.  There are several factors which appear to increase your risk of developing SAD.  If you live in the United States, some experts feel the farther north of the equator you live, the higher likelihood you could suffer from SAD.  Having a family history of SAD also increases your risk, as does being female.  If you are already diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, your chance for SAD goes up, and SAD also appears to be more common in younger adults, with risk declining with age. 

Getting help.  SAD should not be taken lightly, and in fact, Psychology Today warns those who suffer with SAD are at an increased risk for suicide.  If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of SAD, feels hopeless, depressed, or has thoughts of suicide, it’s crucial to reach out.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free service, and you can talk to someone 24/7.  Don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255 if you or someone you care about needs assistance. 

Do you think you or a loved one might have
SAD?  Be aware of the symptoms, and be
sure to get help if there is reason for concern.  SAD is a treatable issue, and nobody should
have to suffer from it.