Seasonal affective disorder

February 26, 2019 Elizabeth Meade MD

Managing the winter blues

It's no secret that Seattle can be cold, dark, dreary and sometimes snowy in the winter. It’s not unusual to experience the "winter blues" - you might feel lethargic, unmotivated, less active than usual, or dreaming of sunshine. If those feelings start affecting important aspects of your life - motivation at work, participation in activities you love, relationship dynamics - you may be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of recurrent depression associated with seasonal change, most commonly in fall/winter months.

Why do seasons affect mood?

Less natural light can cause lower levels of serotonin, changes in circadian rhythms, and natural melatonin secretion and these can all affect your mood. People might have difficulty sleeping, be less interested in social interaction, or eat more and exercise less than usual.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can experience the winter blues, but we tend to see SAD in climates like Seattle because of the weather and hours of daylight. It is estimated that about 9% of Americans living near the Canadian border experience SAD symptoms versus just 1.5% of people in Florida.

What to do if you are experiencing winter blues or SAD?

See your doctor! It's important to make sure you don't have another physiologic reason for your symptoms, and to get guidance on treatments. These might include light therapy using light boxes, prescribed exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, or even medication. For everyone, it's key to get outside when we have a sunny day during the winter. Something as small as a lunchtime walk on a bright day can make a difference for mild symptoms. It's also crucial to keep up general healthy habits. Good sleep, a healthy diet, and making time for people and activities you love can make a world of difference.

Remember that if you are experiencing even mild symptoms of depression or SAD to talk with your doctor or mental health provider. If you feel suicidal, seek immediate medical care.


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