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Winter Blues Getting You Down?

Know the signs of seasonal affective disorder and how to treat it.

 Girl leaning against window 

Seasonal shifts and lack of natural sunlight during the winter months can cause some people to experience a change in mood—this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).1 Experts believe that the lack of sunlight upsets our body’s biological clock and can affect levels of serotonin—a chemical in the brain that affects mood. SAD is more likely to occur in women than in men, and younger people are more at risk than older adults. Other risk factors include a family history of SAD, having clinical depression, and living far from the equator.

People with SAD may notice symptoms beginning in the fall that can last throughout the winter months, depleting energy and causing moodiness. Typically, these symptoms go away at the beginning of spring or summer. The symptoms of SAD can be similar to the symptoms of major depression, but typically the symptoms associated with SAD are seasonal.

To help you identify if you are experiencing the disorder, here are some symptoms of SAD:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight gain 
  • Moodiness and anxiety
  • Oversleeping but still feel tired
  • Loss of interest in normal activities

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to offset these symptoms.  Better yet, exercising outdoors will expose you to natural light—so exercise in the early part of the day when the sun is shining is best. Being more active will help you have more energy and feel less depressed. Some people respond well to bright light treatment—lights that are brighter than normal indoor lights that you can use while you eat breakfast, read, or work at a desk.

It’s normal to have a few days when you feel down, but if the symptoms persist, you should see your doctor. This is especially important if you notice changes with your sleep, appetite, or if you’re experiencing feelings of hopelessness or suicide. Your doctor could recommend medication or counseling to help you feel better again.


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The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.



    “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” MedlinePlus. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seasonalaffectivedisorder.html> “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047> “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/tc/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-topic-overview>

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Sandy Patton

Sandy is a Marketing Communications Specialist and has been with SelectHealth for 15 years. Her prior roles include health education and wellness coaching.