Preventing and Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Written by: Toni Ameslav, MSW, Social Worker

If you have spent at least one long, gray winter in the Pacific Northwest, you have undoubtedly heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself as the days become shorter and darker and the cloud cover thickens.

SAD is a type of depression, and even some of the most hardened Northwesterners experience changes in their behavior and mood as the seasons change.

According to Psychiatry Northwest, a local behavioral health practice, “Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that occurs when the seasons change. Those who experience SAD will experience it at the same time every year, and it can affect those who live in a particular climate like Seattle.” Reduced sunlight— especially morning light—causes chemical changes in the brain and disruptions in your body’s biological clock or circadian rhythms.

Some of the most common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Sleeping more than usual or having trouble sleeping
  • Eating more than normal (especially carbohydrates)
  • Having low energy or a lack of motivation
  • Feeling less interested in social activities
  • Experiencing feelings of depression and irritability

It’s a good idea to consult with your physician to rule out any possible physical causes of these symptoms rather than to diagnose yourself. If your doctor agrees that you are experiencing SAD based on your symptoms, here are some suggestions to help you feel more like yourself during the winter months:

  • Sit under a SAD therapy lamp within the first hour of your day. This is helpful for some people because artificial light mimics outdoor light. You can also increase your light intake if you go outside, even briefly, within two hours of getting up even if there’s low light.
  • Exercise outdoors, such as by taking a short walk.
  • Try yoga, tai chi or meditation.
  • Eat foods high in vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids, like eggs, seeds, walnuts, tofu, avocados and cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and sardines.
  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Finally, even when you don’t feel like socializing, try to meet friends at the Senior Center or participate in other activities. Being social can relieve the symptoms of SAD.

We may yearn for the sun in this beautiful corner of the country during the long winter months, but even on those gray November days we can help ourselves be happier, more active and more engaged in the world around us!