Do I have Seasonal Affective Disorder? And what can I do to feel better?


It’s official -- daylight saving time is over and winter is almost here.

Which means that as those fall Instagrams shift from apple pie and pumpkin picking to snowmen and hot chocolate, the days get shorter and darker until -- bam. You’re leaving for work in the pitch black and returning from work...also in the pitch black.

For some people, it can be a minor nuisance, while for others it can trigger full-blown depression that can last for months.


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression triggered by the change of seasons and typically occurs during the winter months. It’s thought to be triggered by reduced sunlight, which can cause both a drop in serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) and a disruption in melatonin (a sleep-related hormone).


What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Colder temperatures and longer nights can be enough to make anyone want to curl up on the couch and dream of warmer weather, but if you feel constantly fatigued, socially withdrawn, or depressed, there are things you can to do help alleviate symptoms.


How can I treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The good news is, you absolutely don’t have to suffer through alone. There are lots of people who've been there, and many treatment options you can consider.


1.  Invest in a lightbox

Put that Amazon Prime account to work and purchase a light therapy box to help you get through the season. The boxes work by mimicking the sun’s rays, which can suppress your body’s release of melatonin and help reduce symptoms in anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The best part? You can switch it on in the morning and watch TV or enjoy a cup of coffee -- all you have to do is literally sit there to reap the benefits.


2. Take your vitamins

Whether you’re working them into your diet naturally or by upping your intake through adding supplements to your routine, omega-3 fatty acids, certain B vitamins, and Vitamin D have all been studied as possible treatments for depression. Talk to your doctor about whether adding any of the above to your daily pill case can help


3. Get outside

I know, I know. Easier said than done when the temperatures start to drop and most of your free time is spent in darkness. But even squeezing in a quick walk during the day -- even when it’s overcast -- can help ease symptoms. Bonus points if you can make it outside within two hours of waking or around noon when the sun is at its brightest.


4. Hit the gym

If it seems like exercise is trotted out as a cure-all for just about everything, it’s because it totally is. Listen. We understand. Carving out time to exercise can be tough, especially if you’re already knee-deep in seasonal depression and all you want to do is eat bagels in your pajamas. But even short bursts of physical activity have been proven to raise levels of endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine -- all of which can have major mental benefits.


5. Call a doctor

Especially if symptoms are severe, prescription antidepressants can also help. Keep in mind that it might take a few weeks to see results, so if you have a history of SAD, you may want to speak to a doctor about your options before you notice your symptoms returning.

Megan Ranney