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How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Depressed person in yellow coat walking outside in the snow

See, Winter comes to rule the varied year,

Sullen and sad, with all his rising train—

Vapours, and clouds, and storms. Be these my theme,

These, that exalt the soul to solemn thought

And heavenly musing. Welcome, kindred glooms!

—James Thomson, The Seasons: Winter

It’s 4 PM. Uh.. what? It’s 4 PM and it looks like it’s 6 already! Welcome, winter.

And welcome, gloominess.

If you feel down for ‘no reason’ when the winter months kick in, don’t worry. You’re

not alone. In a given year, about 5% of Americans suffer from the winter blues, or

seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder isn’t the same as the temporary low mood we all go

through from time to time. It is a serious mental health condition, with symptoms

similar to major depression, and recurs every year, meaning it has a pattern.

The symptoms of SAD begin to show during the fall, remain throughout the

winter, and begin to improve with the arrival of spring and summer.

What does SAD look like? Here is a list of common symptoms:

  • Feeling sad and hopeless

  • Lack of energy

  • Feeling sleepy even after a full night’s sleep

  • Changes in appetite

  • Losing interest in hobbies/past enjoyable activities

  • Social withdrawal

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Thoughts of suicide

These symptoms can be distressing and make everyday life difficult, affecting

work and personal relationships.

There are a few theories that attempt to explain what causes SAD. There is some

evidence that suggests that our bodies produce more melatonin—a hormone that

promotes sleep at night—during the winters as the days are shorter and darker.

Another theory indicates that lack of sunlight decreases the production of

serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood. The lack of sunlight

also disrupts our body's circadian rhythm, thereby affecting our sleep, hormones,

and mood.

Depressed person looking down with brown jacket and beanie

While SAD can be quite frustrating, there are several ways to cope with it:

1. Create a routine: Maintaining and following a schedule, which includes a

consistent bedtime and wake up time, before winters begin can positively

affect your mental health. A predictable routine also helps in stabilizing your

internal body clock and prevents sudden mood shifts.

2. Get some sunshine: During the day, get as much sunlight as you can. You

can even go outside for a walk when you need a break. It will allow you to

connect with nature and induce a sense of calm. If you spend a lot of time

working indoors, try to set up your desk near a window and open the blinds

so that you can get plenty of sunlight.

3. Exercise: Regular physical activity can help you beat the blues. It’s hard to

do any kind of intense exercise when you’re always feeling low or sleepy,

which is why we suggest you start with something low-impact like jogging,

cycling, or yoga. Exercise is known to release endorphins—the happy

hormones that lead to positive feelings. Try to exercise for at least 30

minutes each day to combat the symptoms of SAD.

4. Connect with loved ones: The bleakness of winter can make you want to

stay inside all the time and withdraw from social company. This will only

make your mental health worse. Make time to get in touch with friends and

go out on lunch dates or movie nights. Sharing your feelings with a loved

one can help you cope with feelings of loneliness and stress.

If you feel your symptoms are becoming too difficult to cope with or you don’t

have anyone to talk to, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trained professional such as

a therapist. Therapy can help you navigate your feelings, provide you with a safe

space to talk about what you’re going through, and teach you healthy coping


To speak with one of our licensed therapists, click here.

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