Coping with Winter Sadness


by: Kathleen Hoey, LICSW and James Figueiredo

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more than feeling tired or upset during the colder months – it is a serious health concern that folks may experience even if they do not have other mental health issues. Symptoms of SAD might include: feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious; loss of interest in your usual activities; eating more with cravings for carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta; significant weight gain; sleeping more but still feeling tired and trouble concentrating. These symptoms usually come and go around the same time each year. Most individuals with SAD start to have symptoms in the fall and feel healthier sometime in the spring, as the weather improves.

It can be difficult to distinguish the differences between SAD and other types of depression because many of the symptoms are the same. To diagnose SAD, your physician may talk to you about your symptoms, mainly if you have been depressed during the same season (two years in a row) and then improved around the same time period.  Since SAD may be hereditary, your physician may want to know if you have any closes relatives with the ailment. Your physician may order some blood tests and perform a mental health assessment to see if you have a health issue other than SAD.  If you think you may have SAD it is recommended that you discuss this issue with your physician to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

There are several strategies to help folks minimize the symptoms relating to SAD. SAD symptoms are largely caused by lack of exposure to sunlight during the darker months. Since seasonal mood variations can be related to lack of light, spending more time outside on sunny winter days can be beneficial. This helps our brains produce more serotonin which helps make us feel good.  Through exposure to sunshine our bodies absorb vitamin D. Lack of sunlight is linked to lower vitamin D levels which are connected to depression and low energy. Taking vitamin D pills may also be beneficial and a physician may assist you in determining the correct dosage.

Additionally, exercising regularly combined with healthy eating help to reduce the effects of SAD. Exercise is known to improve mood and depression, which makes it an effective method for dealing with SAD. Foods rich in vitamins like iron, vitamin C, and calcium can also improve mood and overall health.

Also, varying our daily routines can help break this cycle of sadness. For example, you could try spending more time with people whose company you enjoy. Invite someone to tea, the movies, or for a walk, join a club, group or activity. And use all your senses to enhance your life, bring more joy to your life through listening to music, dancing, playing games, knitting, or baking something that fills your home with delightful smells, and go out and hug all works.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.