When the weather turns chilly and it gets dark early, it’s easy to feel like you have the “winter blues.” But if those blues get worse or go on for at least two winters, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s also called SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder happens during the fall or winter. It’s a type of depression. Experts think it has something to do with shorter daylight hours.
How does light affect your mood?
Sunlight triggers your brain to release a chemical called serotonin. That, in turn, triggers feelings of happiness. Less sunlight may lower serotonin and cause depression.
Sunlight also helps the body make vitamin D, which boosts serotonin. Less sun and less vitamin D may cause your brain to make less serotonin.
Another brain chemical that may play a role in SAD is melatonin. When it gets dark, the brain releases melatonin to help you get to sleep. But shorter days and earlier darkness can cause the body to make more melatonin. So you can feel tired all through the day.
What does SAD feel like?
People with SAD often feel:
SAD can also make you lose interest in doing the things you enjoy and spending time with the people you love. But these feelings may also be caused by other mental health problems. Reach out to your doctor for help if any of these things are happening to you.
How do you care for SAD?
Talk to your doctor about what's best for you. There are usually three choices:
- Use a light box. This is a device that shines bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays). You sit in front of it for 20–30 minutes each day.
- Talk to a mental health doctor or psychologist.
- Take medicines, like antidepressants.
Here are some general tips that can make your winter months feel brighter:
- Lighten up. Put more sunlight into your life. Sit by a window or go for a walk.
- Get out there. Take up a winter sport that gets you outside and keeps you moving.
- Eat healthy. Get a good mix of foods with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Don’t listen to the carb cravings for starchy and sweet foods.
- Move more. Try walking or biking. Get a least 30 minutes 3 times a week.
- Get enough sleep. It will help your mood and keep you from overeating.
- Be social. Spend time with friends and family. Stay involved with social activities like volunteering.
If these things don’t work, talk to your doctor.
Feeling down or stressed? Get help.
Talk to a mental health specialist.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.