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6 Ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock

William McKenna, M.S. - published on 02/12/17

It's that time of year when many suffer from depression; here are some behavioral interventions that can help.

I have a joke that February is the month that God forgot about. Depending on where you live, it’s usually cold and dark, which adds up to nothing more than feeling down and out. As a therapist, I see how many of my patients begin to take a downturn during the winter in general, and sometimes February in particular. During this time, therapists often add a certain specifier to a patient’s diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. That specifier is, “with seasonal pattern,” a diagnosis that used to be known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that occurs during the winter months and abates by the spring (Timby & Smith, 2005). Funnily enough, SAD used to be an adaptive action for humans since food was scarce, and low-energy humans burn fewer calories (Belilovsky, 2010). However, in our current society, we never take a break from our need to function at peak condition. Some symptoms for those who suffer from SAD are just like ones found in Major Depressive Disorder: depressed mood, loss of interest in things that you used to find pleasurable, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue, feeling worthless, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, and recurrent suicidal thoughts. Additionally, those who live in places above 40 degrees latitude (e.g. New England) are more susceptible to suffer from the winter blues given their lack of sunlight. It is very important to note that just like anyone who suffers from depression, those who suffer from SAD are not weak. Depression is partly a biochemical disorder, and thus a person cannot just snap out of it. But that does not mean that you are at SAD’s mercy.

There are a variety of behavioral interventions that a person suffering from SAD can use to help themselves. For example, Timby and Smith (2005) recommend the following to combat this depressive disorder:

  • Take walks outside, preferably around noon. Try to go outside for an hour.
  • Avoid using sunglasses or contact lenses that are coated to shield UV radiation because this interferes with light transmission to the pineal gland.
  • Add more lamps and brighter lights at home and work.
  • Trim shrubs and trees from around windows to let in more light.
  • Use translucent curtains or shades rather than heavy drapes.
  • Sleep and eat in east facing rooms (if possible).

Another very important thing to remember when dealing SAD is for you to be patient with yourself and your recovery. Remember that SAD will abate and that you are not to blame for developing this disorder. You should take active steps to help work on your SAD, but remember that being hard on yourself is never the answer to solving the depression riddle.

The winter month of February is one of the prime moments from SAD (now known as Major Depressive Disorder, with seasonal pattern) to develop. Rest assured that this mood disorder is, in fact, real and affects many people each year. However, with the right support and proper behavioral techniques, you or your loved ones can beat SAD and enjoy the peaceful serenity of the winter months.

Mental Health
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