Winter can be a gloomy time, but does that mean our moods have to be gloomy too? We’ve all experienced a drop in our moods when the winter season sets in. Most people are slightly affected by the cold, the longer nights and the chaos of the holiday season. But how do we know if this is normal or if it is Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD)? For those of you who are not familiar with SAD, it is mental health disorder that impairs those affected with depression when the weather changes. There is Winter SAD and Spring/Summer SAD, however, the latter is way less common.
The “SAD” Causes
There are several causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder and together they can really affect
a person’s mood. In a nutshell, the onset of the winter season means that the days are shorter and
the nights are longer. The reason we hear about most is that changes in light can affect a person’s
biological clock. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects a
one’s mood). This can then disrupt the body’s sleep patterns and alter a person’s mood. However,
there are some lesser-known reasons that are important to keep in mind:
1. Winter is symbolic of ending and loss as it marks the end of the calendar year and plants
and animals go into hibernation. If you suffer from SAD there may be a loss you have not
2. Winter also heralds new beginnings so if you are one to be stressed over starting new
projects or new relationships then SAD may be an indicator that you aren’t ready to
tackle anything new.
3. Winter forces more indoor time so you may feel this as limited options which may cause
emotional distress and SAD.
The “SAD” Symptoms
There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of when you are looking for Seasonal
Affective Disorder. One of the most common symptoms is oversleeping. Sleep is something that we
long for when we need comfort and relief. With the cold and dark winter months, it can be harder and
harder to get up from the bed.
Another common symptom to look out for is a change in a person’s diet. One of the most
common sources of comfort for depression is food and/or alcohol. This is when a person starts to
“eats their feelings”, so to speak. People will often eat more food in their search for comfort or drink
more alcohol to “numb” the painful emotions. They will also seek foods that are high in
carbohydrates for the warm comforting feeling. This can lead to changes in appetite and sudden
3 Ways to Cope
1. Maintain a daily routine. Keeping busy and having something we can control and manage
helps with our mental state.
2. Get a winter hobby. What better way to beat winter depression then by getting excited about
an activity you can only do during winter– am I right?
3. Book a trip. If you feel like these things are not enough to get you out of your winter funk,
skip your summer vacation and plan a tropical vacation during the winter. Miami and Los
Angeles are always GREAT options.
When it comes to mental health it is always important to be aware of how you feel and how you are
reacting to your surroundings. Remember, your feelings and emotional well-being are very important!
Do not disregard your discomfort or your moods, but rather be mindful of how you’re are feeling. If
your symptoms are causing disruptions in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.
To your emotional health,
Dr. Laura Dabney