What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) + How to Feel Better

Snowflakes & holiday parties are lovely, but the reality is that winter can be tough for many people. 

It’s dark. It’s cold. The trees are bare, and the grass has turned brown. Everything looks gloomy. Shorter days mean you’re probably driving to and from work in the dark. And instead of exercising, maybe you’re binge-watching Netflix and eating pints of rocky-road ice cream – alone.

Even though nothing is “technically” wrong, you feel tired & moody. 

So, what’s the deal?? 

Well, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to Boston University, an estimated 10 million Americans are affected by SAD each year.¹

That’s a lot of people! 

So let’s chat about what SAD is, and some things that might help improve the symptoms.

Do You Have SAD? 

The truth is – it’s not always easy to know if what you’re feeling is just a case of the blues, or if it’s something more serious. My advice is to focus on patterns & durations. If this is something you experience every year like clockwork, then chances are you’re experiencing SAD. 

Here are the top symptoms of SAD: 

  • Increased feelings of sadness or depression
  • Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Fatigue, sluggish
  • Sleepiness, oversleeping
  • Anxiety, stress
  • Changes in your appetite 
  • Craving carbs
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Brain fog, poor concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Suicidal ideation

So, why does this happen in the first place? ๐Ÿ‘‡

What Causes SAD?

It’s a good question. And I promise not to get too nerdy on you! ๐Ÿค“

Here’s what you need to know: 

SAD is a real physiological condition. 

It’s a type of depression brought on by decreased amounts of sunlight being absorbed during the colder months.¹ Therefore, the closer you live to the north or south poles, the more likely you are to experience it.

You see, our bodies need sunlight to function properly!

When natural sunlight enters through your eyes and skin, it triggers your brain to produce two important things – melatonin + serotonin. 

Melatonin is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycles.

And, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates things like: 

  • Mood
  • Sleep patterns
  • Appetite 
  • Digestion
  • Sex drive
  • Attention span
  • Circulation and blood flow

So, to summarize, getting less sun impacts your brain chemistry, which causes the unpleasant symptoms listed above.²

It goes without saying that you should talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms, butttt I’m also going to share some things that my patients have found incredibly helpful when experiencing SAD. 

5 Things You Can Do to Help

Here are 5 things that my patients have done to feel better when experiencing SAD. 

1. Targeted Supplements ๐Ÿ’Š

There are several supplements that can help. 

Vitamin D supplementation is key. Studies show that vitamin D helps with mood regulation. But with less sun exposure during winter, our bodies can’t produce quite enough. I recommend taking a high-quality Vitamin D3, which is more easily absorbed compared to vitamin D2.โถ 

Another great supplement for SAD is Inositol. This supports the nervous system and, therefore, can help to minimize symptoms. I’ve seen this work wonders with my patients!

St. John’s Wort activates your GABA receptors and has been shown to reduce depression just as well as antidepressant medications, but without the side effects. Do not take St. John’s Wort if you are currently taking SSRIs or if presently doing light therapy. And as always, consult your doctor first. 

2. Light Therapy ๐ŸŒž

If the supplements aren’t cutting it, try light therapy. They are a little pricey, but Sperti makes high-quality vitamin D lamps. 

Even just 5 minutes a day can make a big difference in your mood. 

Pro Tip → Don’t toss the directions with this one! You can seriously burn yourself with over-exposure, so grab those protective goggles and start SLOW.

3. Eat More Fish ๐ŸŸ

You’ve heard the saying, “Food is Medicine?”

Well, it’s true!

Be sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fats by eating plenty of fish. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are good sources of omega-3, and research suggests this supports your happy hormones, serotonin, and dopamine.โท 

Don’t like fish? – try this supplement. Olprima promotes a healthy inflammatory response while providing general mood support. 

Also, avoid processed foods, foods high in sugar or artificial ingredients, and preservatives. Remember, if you can’t pronounce it, your body doesn’t recognize it! Select foods from the produce section, focusing on local fruits and vegetables. 

4. Take a Brisk Walk ๐Ÿงค

I know, I know… who wants to go for a walk when it’s freezing cold outside? 

Especially when you’re feeling blah. 

Butttt, the science is clear here. Movement can boost your mood, and you already know you need more sunlight, sooooo, bundle up and start walking!โธ

A ten-minute walk when the sun is out will go a long way. Find an accountability partner and go on a walk together. It will do wonders for both of you to raise serotonin levels and release those feel-good endorphins. 

5. Surround Yourself With People ๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍๐Ÿ‘ง‍๐Ÿ‘ฆ

We all tend to stay home more during the winter months, but isolating only makes seasonal depression worse! Be proactive and intentional about setting dates to get out with your friends.

Here are some ideas: 

  • Enjoy a cup of coffee at a cozy cafe 
  • Try a new restaurant in a neighboring town
  • Catch a discounted matinee movie
  • Host a small monthly book club 

Hopefully, some of these ideas have been helpful, and please remember to be patient with yourself as you find what works best. Healing is rarely a linear path, but small steps in the right direction add up!

Find More Support for SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a physiological condition that should be taken seriously. It's important to know that you're not alone. There are many things you can do to help manage the symptoms.

If you're still struggling after trying these suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to help. 

 

References: 

1.  "Seasonal Affective Disorder Impacts 10 Million Americans | BU Today." 31 Oct. 2019, https://www.bu.edu/articles/2019/seasonal-affective-disorder/. Accessed 6 Nov. 2022.

2. "Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Symptoms and causes." 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

3. "Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – Cleveland Clinic." 10 Apr. 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression. Accessed 6 Nov. 2022.

5. Sunlight And the Brain | Science | AAAS." 12 Oct. 2018, https://www.science.org/content/blog-post/sunlight-and-brain. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

6. "Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter." https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9539254/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

7. "Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence … – NCBI." 18 Mar. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976923/. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

8. "More evidence that exercise can boost mood – Harvard Health." 1 May. 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

Judy Gentner