Albright College


Does the winter make you SAD?
(Seasonal Affective Disorder)

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is an extreme form of the "winter blues," depression that occurs at the same time each year, bringing lethargy and curtailing normal functioning.

Although a different kind of SAD can occur in the summer, the most common form ("winter depression") begins gradually in late August or early September and continues until March or early April. Sufferers have been known to increase their sleep by as many as four hours a night and gain more than twenty pounds as they attempt to "hibernate" the winter away. Four times as many women suffer from SAD as men, and it tends to run in families.

Geographical locations play the largest role in susceptibility. The nearer one lives to the poles, the greater the incidence. People in Canada or the northern U.S. are eight times more likely to fall victim to SAD that those living in sunny areas. SAD usually develops in one's early 20s.

What Causes SAD?

Researchers are still far from agreement and suggest it may be more than one cause. The most likely explanation involves the brain chemical serotonin. In winter it reaches its lowest concentrations in key parts of the brain causing depression. SAD is triggered by inadequate outdoor light and exacerbated by stress. It is also believed that a lack of sunlight disrupts our circadian rhythm, which is our internal clock.

What are the symptoms?

  • Depression, difficulty enjoying life, pessimism about the future
  • Loss of energy, fatigue, apathy
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Impaired functioning
  • Increased appetite, weight gain
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Desire to avoid people or be alone
  • Irritability or crying spells
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Difficultly concentrating

What are the treatments?

The most effective treatment is light therapy, sometimes combined with antidepressant, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or both.

At-Home Remedies

  • Be outdoors as often as possible especially at lunch when the sun is highest
  • Exercise as much as possible
  • Take winter vacations in places with long days
  • Increase natural light in your home
  • Paint your walls lighter colors
  • Keep warm and enjoy the fun aspects of winter - wood fires, books, music
  • If all else fails and you can manage it, move to a sunnier climate.

If suicidal ideations occur, please contact your health care provider or counselor.

Don't suffer through another SAD winter again.

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