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Don't FALL into S.A.D.: Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Ashley Foster , Program Associate - September 18, 2017

Park bence and colorful leaves
As the seasons start to change to cooler then colder temps, sometimes our moods change. Don't brush off that yearly feeling as just " winter blues". It's up to you to take the steps to keep your mood and motivation steady all year. It's up to you to take care of yourself now before winter hits.

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.


Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

Girl sitting on ground with a sad face

When to see a doctor

If you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor.This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

S.A.D can get worse and lead to problems if it's not treated. These can include:

  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your depression patterns, such as when your depression starts and what seems to make it better or worse
  • Any other mental or physical health problems you have 
  • Any recent major stressors or life changes 
  • All medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking, including dosages

Your doctor or mental health provider may do a thorough evaluation that includes: physical exam, lab tests, & psychological evaluation.

These steps can help you manage seasonal affective disorder:

  • Stick to your treatment plan. Take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments as scheduled.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and take time to relax. Participate in an exercise program or engage in another form of regular physical activity. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Don't turn to alcohol or illegal drugs for relief.
  • Practice stress management. Learn techniques to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
  • Socialize. When you're feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.
  • Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD or to cooler locations if you have summer SAD.

There's no known way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time.


For more topics on personal well-being visit:

For more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder visit:

Mayo Clinic

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