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Winter Depression - Seasonal Affective Disorder

This page created 13th June 2014

By Aly (ADAVIC Volunteer)

Many of us will experience a depressed mood at some point in our lives. Depression can also at times just appear out of nowhere and without reason. It can make you feel low, sad or moody from time to time. However, in some people these feelings are more intense and persist for long periods of time. This can impact on people’s daily life, to the point where they may be reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed.

Sometimes individuals only experience these feelings and emotions during certain times of the year, such as winter.  This is called seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. A rare form of seasonal depression, known as "summer depression," begins in late spring or early summer and ends in autumn. In general however, seasonal affective disorder starts in winter and ends in spring or early summer.

So, what are the symptoms of SAD during winter? People with SAD share many of the signs of depression, including:
  • Decreased levels of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations and normal daily activity
  • Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods which can lead to weight gain

If you experience symptoms of seasonal depression, there are a number of different ways to cope. Light therapy is recommended as the first line of treatment for SAD. It involves being exposed to 10,000-lux of cool-white or full-spectrum florescent lights, with ultra violet rays filtered out. The recommend starting dose of Light Therapy is for around 30 minutes each morning, but individuals can progress to morning and evening for optimal results. Light therapy treatment should start upon onset of the first symptom and continue throughout winter months and until spring, indicative of 3-5 months of treatment.

Other lines of treatment for SAD are antidepressants and psychotherapy. However, it is important to discuss your concerns with a mental health care professional to ensure that your chosen treatment is the best choice for your specific needs.

There are also some self-help options that you can perform to also help relieve symptoms. These include:

  • Increase sunlight exposure – try to expose yourself each day to sunlight as it can help relieve symptoms. For example, if you’re at work try sitting at a desk next to a window, or eat your lunch outdoors. Extra sunlight during winter may be the only treatment necessary in mild cases of SAD.
  • Bring sunshine into your home – install skylights, keep the curtains open and cut back trees or bushes that block light from your windows.
  • Get some exercise – regular exercise is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety. Boost the benefits by shifting your exercise routine to the outdoors, weather permitting.
  • Look after yourself – make sure you have good sleeping habits and eat a healthy diet. Try and get an early night’s sleep and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Holiday in the sun – try to holiday in warmer climates during winter.
  • Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" and something you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.



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