How to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

For many Oregonians, the “winter blues” is a very real thing. As the sun rises later and sets earlier, many begin feeling the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that commonly occurs during the year’s cloudiest seasons: fall and winter. Although less common, SAD can also occur in the summer or spring. According to Mayo Clinic, the most common SAD symptoms include:

  • Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, loss of interest, mood swings, or sadness
  • Sleep: excess sleepiness, insomnia, or sleep deprivation
  • Body: appetite changes or fatigue
  • Behavioral: irritability or social isolation
  • Also common: depression, lack of concentration, or weight gain

Below you will find more information about SAD, as well as precautions you can take to prevent and alleviate its symptoms.  

Things to Know

  • Five percent of the U.S. population experiences SAD every year.
  • Four out of five people who experience SAD are women.
  • Those who are further from the earth’s equator, or places that get less sunlight during fall and winter, are at higher risk of developing SAD.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although SAD is usually triggered by consistent gloomy weather and a lack of sunshine, its symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on your location, gender, genetics, and clinical history. Find out more about what causes SAD below.

  • Lack of Sunshine – Researchers believe the leading causes of SAD to be a lack of sunshine, which is prevalent in places further from the equator (such as Oregon). Sunshine plays a big role in helping the brain produce a chemical called Serotonin, which helps regulate your mood. Sunshine also helps your body produce Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and calcium absorption. Vitamin D can lower the risk of depression and other serious illnesses.
  • Gender – Gender is also a contributing factor of SAD.  In fact, four out of five people who experience SAD are women, and this is likely due to women being more prone to fluctuating hormones.
  • GeneticsJust like depression, your risk of developing SAD increases if your family has a history of mood disorders.
  • History of Depression – Those with a history of depression also have a higher risk of developing SAD, with symptoms that may be more severe.

Prevention & Treatment

Rather than brushing your “winter blues” under the rug, it’s important to take precaution to ensure your condition doesn’t get any worse. Consider these tips to keep your mood steady throughout the seasons.

Chase the daylight- Even during the cloudiest days, it’s important to get outside to soak up some daylight. Even if you can’t see the sun, remember the sun’s rays are still working, and can make a big difference for your serotonin and Vitamin D levels. Studies show a 10-15 minute walk everyday can drastically help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Get your Vitamin D – One of the best ways to alleviate symptoms of SAD is to ensure you are getting the appropriate amount of Vitamin D. Studies show that Vitamin D lowers the risk of depression, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and more; so you can understand why it’s so important for our bodies!

According to studies, 42 percent of Americans are Vitamin D deficient, mostly due having diets low in Vitamin D, and not getting enough outside activity. On top of spending 10-15 minutes outside everyday, the best way to get enough Vitamin D during the fall and winter is by eating a diet rich in Vitamin D (eggs, fish, beef, tofu, milk, etc.).

Like many Oregonians, though, you may have to consider taking a Vitamin D supplement to ensure you get enough of it everyday. If you think you might be Vitamin D deficient, consult your doctor about taking Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D supplements can be found at most grocery stores.

Exercise – As with any form of depression, exercising can make a world of difference for someone experiencing SAD. Regular exercise can help ease symptoms of SAD by releasing feel-good endorphins, and help you take your mind off  negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety.

Any form of physical activity can be helpful, whether it be a 10-15 minute walk outside (also great for catching sun rays), a bicycle ride, or even some light dumbbell lifting.

Here are some easy ways to get 10 minutes of exercise each day.

Spend time with those closest to you – One of the symptoms of SAD is social withdrawal, which means a lot of days you might feel like hiding under the covers rather than being around others. Studies show that socializing is one of the greatest ways to prevent isolation, get out of your own head, and give your mood a boost. Not only does it challenge you to break out of your shell, but it can also help you feel supported by others. Who knows, some of your friends may also have great suggestions for dealing with SAD.

While getting out is great, socializing does not require you to leave your nest. There are plenty of ways to socialize in the comfort of your own home including Facebook or other online social sites, calling a friend or relative, texting or emailing someone, or even inviting a friend over for dinner.

Invest in a light box – If you live in Oregon, you’ve probably heard about light boxes. Although the method isn’t for everyone, light box treatment is one of the several ways people alleviate their SAD symptoms.

Those who use light box therapy usually spend 30 minutes per day sitting in front of a special light that provides 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity). While this is not as much lux as the sun can provide (50,000 lux), it is still 100 times more light than your regular indoor lights can provide, and it can greatly help with your Vitamin D and serotonin levels. Many people use their special lights while reading a book, watching television, or catching up on work.

Brand new light boxes can sometimes run pricey, but if you’re in for a bargain they can often be found at second-hand stores like Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul – especially during the sunny seasons. Before purchasing a light box, consult your doctor to ensure its the right method of SAD treatment for you.

Learn about the pros and cons of light box treatment.

Seek help – As stated above, SAD is a form of depression and it shouldn’t be brushed aside. If you feel your SAD symptoms may be more severe, be sure to tell someone close to you about it, and don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional.


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