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10 Signs of Seasonal Depression (and 6 Ways to Fight It)

If you can't get out in the sun, try to bring the sun to you.

Source: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

When the days get shorter, the sun shines lower in the sky, and the weather gets colder, people often experience a drop in mood. For some, the change is serious: They have difficulty getting up in the morning and feel lethargic much of the day. They crave sunlight and certain foods, and have to fight the urge to burrow under the covers until spring comes.

These are all symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is seasonal mood disorder that usually erupts in October and November, when the days become shorter, and typically remits when spring approaches. SAD can look and feel much like depression, but it has a seasonal pattern—usually beginning and ending with fall and spring, and tending to happen similarly in consecutive years.

Here are 10 common symptoms of SAD:

  1. Depressed mood most of the day nearly every day.
  2. Loss of interest in things you used to find interesting or enjoyable.
  3. Changes in sleep patterns—primarily oversleeping.
  4. Low energy and lethargy.
  5. Difficulty with concentration and focus.
  6. Feeling anxious or irritable, or having difficulty managing stress.
  7. A reluctance to engage with others and a desire to be alone.
  8. Decreased libido and sexual desire.
  9. Craving sunlight.
  10. Craving carbohydrate-rich foods (and resulting weight gain).

If you think you might be suffering from SAD you should consult a mental health professional. In addition, there are a number of things you can do to ease your symptoms:

1. Try light therapy.

SAD is fundamentally about a lack of light (and not the lower temperature). You should prioritize getting outside on sunny days as much as you can. But aside from that, light boxes, lamps, and visors can provide up to 10,000 LUX of light, functioning as a "sun replacement." Light therapy has been shown to be very effective for treating SAD. Be sure to get your device from a reputable company and to follow the "dosing" guidelines.

2. Maintain a steady sleep schedule.

Since SAD often induces sleep disturbances and disturbances in circadian rhythms, it is important to maintain a relatively strict sleeping schedule.

3. Spend time outdoors.

SAD can make you want to hibernate and lock yourself indoors until spring. Spending time outdoors and in nature combats this desire and restores mood and energy levels.

4. Go on vacation (as therapy).

Winter vacations to sunny climates can be an important way to alleviate the symptoms of SAD and break up the long winter. (Plus, it’s easier to justify a vacation if it counts as therapy, too.)

5. Eat a balanced diet.

Craving carbs can make you gain weight, which itself can contribute to a bad mood and negative outlook. Try to find a balance between indulging your craving for carbs and eating sufficient amounts of protein and vegetables, while not going over your normal caloric intake. It is natural to gain a few pounds over the winter but the only way to make sure it doesn’t become more than that is to be mindful of your food intake.

6. Medication.

Many people who suffer from SAD take antidepressants seasonally, starting in the fall and then weaning off of them in the spring. If you think you could benefit from antidepressants, make an appointment with a psychiatrist or your primary-care physician.

For more ways to increase your emotional health, check out, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014).

Copyright 2015 Guy Winch

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