Seasonal Depression: What It Is and How to Cope

For many people, the winter months bring not only a change in the weather but also a change in their mood. If you feel more tired, irritable, and down during the winter, you may be experiencing seasonal depression—also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

An estimated 4-6% of Americans suffer from SAD, with symptoms typically starting in the fall and continuing into the winter months.

While the cause of SAD is not fully understood, it is believed to be related to changes in sunlight exposure and the body's internal clock.

Less sunlight exposure can lead to a decrease in serotonin—a brain chemical that affects mood—and an increase in melatonin—a hormone that makes you sleepy. These changes can disrupt your body's natural sleep-wake cycle and lead to feelings of depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

The most common symptom of SAD is a persistent low mood. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Withdrawing from friends and family or having less energy for socializing
  • Sleeping more than usual or having difficulty sleeping 
  • Changes in appetite, resulting in weight gain or loss 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Unexplained aches and pains 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Treating Seasonal Depression

If you have seasonal depression, there are several treatment options available that can help improve your symptoms.

Light therapy is one of the most common treatments for SAD. During light therapy, you sit near a special lightbox that emits bright light for around 30 minutes daily. The light mimics natural outdoor light and helps regulate your body's sleep-wake cycle.

In some cases, medications such as antidepressants may also be used to treat SAD. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is another treatment option for SAD.

CBT involves working with a therapist to identify negative thought patterns contributing to depression. You'll then learn how to replace those thoughts with more positive ones.

If you think you might suffer from SAD, talk to your doctor or mental health professional about which treatment option is right for you. 

Diane K. Schmidt Counseling Services | 8575 W. 110th Street, Suite 304 Overland Park, KS 66210 | Phone: 913.730.6778 | Email: diane@dkschmidtcounseling.com