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How to cope with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

by Izzy Brown, MA, R-DMT, LPC

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people during specific seasons, typically the winter months when daylight hours are shorter. Symptoms range from feelings of sadness and hopelessness to fatigue, changes in appetite, sleeping patterns and difficulty concentrating. While the exact causes of SAD are not fully understood, it is believed that the lack of sunlight during the winter months plays a significant role in its development. If you are struggling with SAD, it is important to know that you are not alone, and there things you can do to cope and manage your symptoms of SAD and improve your overall well-being. Below are a few tips to manage your symptoms of SAD.

1. Get enough sunlight!

I know this sounds obvious, but we do have to put it in practice! Did you know that between the hours of 10 am and 1 pm, that is the time you are receiving vitamin D from the sun? And of course, vitamin D helps improve our mood! Sunlight is crucial for regulating our circadian rhythms, which are responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycles, hormone production, and overall mood. When we don’t get enough sunlight, our circadian rhythms can become disrupted, leading to feelings of sadness, fatigue and other symptoms of SAD. To challenge this, it is important to get as much natural sunlight as possible. This could mean going on a walk, sitting near a window that receives direct sunlight, or using a light therapy box that mimics the effects of sunlight. Light therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for SAD, with studies suggesting that it can improve mood, increase energy levels and reduce symptoms of depression.

2. Exercise

Regular exercise is a great way to alleviate symptoms of depression, including SAD. Exercise releases endorphins which are “feel-good” hormones that can improve mood and boost energy levels. It also helps regulate sleep patterns, which can be disrupted during the winter months. It is commended to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise throughout the week. This includes activities such as walking, jogging, yoga, or dancing. You can also keep it fun and creative like taking a dance class, swimming or hiking!

3. Practice good sleep hygiene.

Getting enough restful sleep is essential for overall mood and mental health. During the winter months, it can be tempting to stay in bed longer or take naps during the day. I have been there! However, this can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and even worsen symptoms of SAD. To maintain proper sleep hygiene, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends (I know, big eye roll!). Avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light produced by these devices can disrupt your sleep patterns. Instead, engage in relaxing activities such as reading, taking a warm bath or practicing meditation or deep breathing exercise.

4. Self-care!

Taking care of yourself is essential when dealing with depression. Make time for activities you enjoy such as reading, listening to music, or calling a friend. Engage in hobbies that bring you joy and allow you to relax and unwind. Eating colorful foods decreases symptoms of SAD such as broccoli, carrots, beets, etc. Excessive alcohol consumption and caffeine consumption worsen symptoms of SAD.

By taking these steps listed above, can improve your mood and quality of life during the winter months. Remember, it is important to take care of your mental health all year round, not just during the winter. If you are struggling with SAD, the last tip I recommend is to seek counseling! Visit our website at to get connect with our therapists. Start your journey to tackle your SAD symptoms to today!

Izzy Brown, MA, R-DMT, LPC



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