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Why Do I Get So Depressed In Winter

Ready Your Mind In The Fall

Why you feel depressed during winter

As you prepare our homes for the fall-to-winter transition, you may want to consider preparing your mind, too.

Regularly allotting time for mood-boosting activities can help people feel physically and psychologically healthier, says psychologist Kim Burgess, PhD, founder of the Pediatric Psychology Center in Rockville, Maryland, and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Its better to set yourself up for the winter season by starting in the fall season doing enjoyable activities, initiating friend group chats and outings, choosing fun hobbies, and engaging in clubs or community service, says Dr. Burgess.

Regularly taking part in these activities ahead of time is much easier than trying to start from scratch once the winter blues have already set in, she adds.

When Should I Call My Doctor

If you feel depressed, fatigued, and cranky the same time each year, and these feelings seem to be seasonal in nature, you may have a form of SAD. Talk openly with your doctor about your feelings. Follow their recommendations for lifestyle changes and treatment.

If your doctor recommends light therapy, ask if the practice provides light boxes for patients with SAD. You can also rent or purchase a light box, but they’re expensive, and health insurance companies don’t usually cover them.

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Who Is At Risk For Sad

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Seasonal Affective Disorder affects up to five percent of American adults. Several factors can lead to increased risk for SAD.

  • SAD is more common in women than in men.
  • We generally see the onset of SAD in early adulthood, but it can also occur in teens.
  • SAD is more common in people with major depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health challenges and those with a family history of depression.
  • According to NIMH, SAD occurs more frequently in people living further away from the equator , where seasonal changes in natural light have a more significant impact.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is officially classified as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. So if you have seasonal affective disorder, you have mood changes and symptoms of depression, including:

  • Sadness, feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day.
  • Trouble sleeping .

You’re Overwhelmed With Family Obligations

Sad Winter Poem by Donna Nimmo

‘Tis the season for familial gatheringsand all of the holiday stress and drama they can bring. But guess what? It’s entirely within your power to decline any stress-inducing invites. If you’d rather not trek to Aunt Linda’s house three hours away for a holiday dinner, politely say no by saying you’re eager to start making new holiday traditions at home.

If you just can’t avoid sitting next to a relative that drives you crazy, take a deep breath before engaging in conversation with them: Research from Harvard Medical School shows it decreases tension and anxiety.

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An Expert Explains How To Recognize The Signs Of Seasonal Affective Disorder And Why Its Important To Treat It As The Covid

While some welcome the changing leaves of fall and fresh snow of winter, others find themselves having difficulty waking in the morning, experiencing daytime fatigue, eating more carbohydrates, and feeling a general sense of depression this time of year. Theres a name for this seasonal affective disorder, or SAD a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Onset typically begins in late fall and early winter, when temperatures drop and days are shorter, and can continue through spring. With the COVID-19 pandemic, some may feel the effects of seasonal depression even more than usual.

Health Matters spoke with Michael Terman, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, about ways to identify and treat SAD, and how to fight seasonal depression in a uniquely challenging winter.

Those suffering should know there are effective treatments for this disorder, and it shouldnt be brushed off as just the winter blues, says Dr. Terman, who is also president of the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.

What is seasonal affective disorder?Seasonal affective disorder is a strong tendency to become depressed during a specific time of the year most often in late fall, continuing into winter. There can be other years when the dip is milder than a full depression, or even absent. Summers are most often symptom-free.

How many people are affected by SAD?

Seasonal Changes In Brain Chemicals Can Lead To Fluctuation In Mood

Do you feel tired, moody, irritable, or depressed during winter? You’re not alone. The farther north you live from the equator, the greater you will feel and be impacted by the winter blues. There are many factors that make people sad, gain weight and tired in the winterespecially biological ones.

One culprit that has been reliably shown to be related to this phenomenon is serotonin. To understand how it is involved, we need to understand what serotonin transporters are.

Brain chemicals have multiple inactivation methods. Anything that prevents their inactivation, prolongs their actions in the brain. Anything that promotes their inactivation shortens their actions in the brain. One way serotonin gets inactivated is by being recycled back through a protein called serotonin transporter. The more numerous the transporters and/or the more efficient serotonin binds to them, the faster the serotonin gets metabolized.

The results of the above-described study and others support the seasonality effects on the chemistry of the brain and in turn its effects on mood, eating, mating and energy. In about 1-6% of the population, these effects amount to a disorder: seasonal affective disorder . A disorder that is more prevalent in geographic places with harsh winters and high altitudes . SAD is a subtype of clinical depression characterized by recurrent winter major depressive episodes with full remission in spring/summer.


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So What Can You Do To Help Yourself When Sadness And Autumn Depression Symptoms Approach

As a person who has always lived in the northeast and northern midwest of the U.S., I’ve experienced climate as one of the clearly defined seasons.

For most of my life, the shift from winter to spring felt hopeful and joyful. However, the transition from summer to fall warned of the cold, dark, depression-filled winter ahead. In addition, the return to school in the fall meant more work, higher expectations, and loads of fear, fall became associated with insecurity and dread.

This sounds like a rather bleak picture.

But, feeling sad, depressed, and blue is only one side of the difficulty of the autumn mood.

Beautiful images and memories of harvest, warm clothing, colorful trees, fresh cool air, and cozy gatherings are also a part of the fall. And these experiences can be wonderful.

However, if your mood is moving into a low, sad sensation, these good qualities of fall create a confusing internal experience of love and loathing.

How can you feel well and trust your world and your experience when inside you are full of such strong polarized feelings? In my experience, this polarization between appreciation and sadness increases worry, and the worry can lead to more depression.

When you feel so much ambivalence and confusion about the signs of depression suddenly showing up, you find it harder to be calm, clear and confident.

However, if your body is cued up for danger, these pleasant feelings may be dismissed, denied, or ignored. Confusion and self-criticism ensue.

Meditation And An Annual Winter Mantra

Why do I feel sleepy in winter?

Meditation is an incredibly powerful practice for the mind, proven through numerous scientific studies to boost emotional health. This past summer, I made it a goal to sit down and meditate every single day, which Iâve done successfully using a free app called Insight Timer.

With meditations geared toward depression and visualizations of sunlight and tropical beaches, this is shaping up to be an important tool in my SAD arsenal.

In the spirit of mindfulness, I also develop a new mantra each year to get me through winter, something that grounds me and brings me back to the present moment instead of wishing for summer.

This winter, you might even find me stringing some holiday lights. And with my âcomfort kitâ essentials in tow, I wonât be looking at them through tear-soaked eyes.

Article originally appeared on November 9, 2018 on Bezzyâs sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed November 9, 2018.

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How Can I Best Take Care Of Myself If I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder

Talk to your healthcare provider. By planning ahead, you can manage your symptoms and feel your best.

  • Stick to your treatment plan: If you have medications or a lamp for SAD, use them as directed. Follow up with your healthcare provider if you dont see an improvement in your symptoms.
  • Care for yourself: Eat a well-balanced diet. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Try to manage stress, perhaps by talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • Plan ahead: Make a plan for what youll do if your symptoms get worse. If you notice signs of depression, take action. It might help to plan a lot of activities during these months. Having a busy schedule keeps you from hunkering down at home.
  • Start treatment early: Talk to your healthcare provider about preventive treatment. If you know your symptoms start in October, consider starting treatment in September.


  • Isolate yourself: Being alone can make your symptoms worse. Even though you may not feel like going out or being social, try to reach out to friends and loved ones.
  • Use alcohol or drugs: They might make symptoms worse, and they can interact negatively with antidepressants.

Ways To Cope With The Winter Blues

Do the chilly, gloomy days of winter make you want to curl up under the covers and stay there until the sun shines again? Youre not alone. During our dark and rainy Pacific Northwest winters, we get less of the mood-boosting help of sunlight, which may set the stage for the winter blues. What can you do to beat the blues when the short, dark days are getting you down?

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Sometimes Its Ok To Doomscroll

Lastly, Roecklein wants to stress that although a routine is important, we are living through monumental events that are unfolding right before our eyes. And if we occasionally want to stay up a few hours later to feel better informed or more connected to other people experiencing the same thing thats actually fine.

We take a moment to care for ourselves by thinking about the pros and cons. So there may be some nights where staying up late and doomscrolling is a choice one might make for good reasons, says Roecklein. But then on other nights, when we think about what we want most for ourselves like better energy in the morning, a more positive mood, better alertness for the endless Zoom meetings we might be more motivated to turn off devices, turn off the TV, dim the lights, and do all of those things that can help you wind down. Give yourself the chance to make that decision, and make the decision thats right for you.

Watch Emily Manoogians TEDxSanDiegoSalon Talk on your circadian clock here:

How Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosed

My Weakness: Seasonal Depression by TrefRex on DeviantArt

If you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder , dont try to diagnose yourself. See your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. You may have another reason for your depression. Many times, seasonal affective disorder is part of a more complex mental health issue.

Your provider may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals will ask you about your symptoms. Theyll consider your pattern of symptoms and decide if you have seasonal depression or another mood disorder. You may need to fill out a questionnaire to determine if you have SAD.

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Are There Clinical Trials Studying Sad

NIMH supports a wide range of research, including clinical trials that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditionsincluding SAD. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct clinical trials with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information about clinical research and how to find clinical trials being conducted around the country, visit the NIMH Clinical Trials page.

Is Light Therapy Safe

Light therapy is typically safe and well-tolerated. But you may need to avoid light therapy if you:

  • Have diabetes or retinopathies: If you have diabetes or a retina condition, theres a potential risk of damaging the retina, the back of your eye.
  • Take some medications: Certain antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can make you more sensitive to sunlight. Light therapy can then cause harm.
  • Have bipolar disorder: Bright light therapy and antidepressants can trigger hypomania or mania, uncontrolled boosts in mood and energy level. If you have bipolar disorder, let your provider know. This will play a role in your treatment plan.

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Feeling Extra Depressed During Winter

If you feel more than just a little down each winter, with symptoms such as missing work or struggling with even simple day-to-day tasks, you may have seasonal affective disorder or winter depression. For some people, the lack of sunlight upsets the bodys ability to keep its complex chemistry and biological rhythms in sync the body doesnt know when to be active and when to rest anymore. If youre trying to help yourself feel better but it isnt working, you might want to see your doctor who could recommend other treatments.

Tips For Coping With Summer Depression

Why do People Like Winter?

What can help you feel better? What can you do to make this summer different? Here are some tips on taking control of summer depression.

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Ian A. Cook, MD, Director of the Depression Research Program Miller Family Professor of Psychiatry, University of California Los Angeles.

NAMI: âSeasonal Affective Disorder.â

National Sleep Foundation: âDepression and Sleep.â

WebMD Medical Reference: âExercise and Depression.â

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How And Why Does Winter Affect My Mood

Seasonal Affective Disorder happens when shifts in natural light cause our bodys natural rhythms to get out of whack. Winter in our region means shorter days and less sunlight. Decreased light can change your bodys circadian rhythmsthe internal clock regulating our sleep/wake cycles. These changes can lead to changes in mood and behavior. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • SAD can increase the production of melatonin, an important hormone affecting sleep patterns and mood.
  • Studies also link SAD to low Vitamin D levels, which may be caused by lack of sunlight.
  • Seasonal stress can also play a role in SAD.

Sad Winter Time Depression

Youve probably heard people talk about having the winter blues, or maybe when it rains day after day, you start to feel a bit down yourself.

For many people, winter feels like the time to just hunker down and get through and plan for the summer ahead. But for others, low mood, irritability and lethargy brought on by the start of winter, can be signs of a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder .

Although the specific cause of SAD isnt known, a drop in your serotonin and a rise in your melatonin levels may play a part. Serotonin, often called the feel good hormone, helps stabilise your mood and lessen anxiety. In the winter months, when there isnt much sunlight, your serotonin levels can drop. On the other hand, having more melatonin makes you feel sleepy and lethargic.

If you think you, or someone you know, is suffering from SAD, its important to seek help from a GP as soon as possible.

Image credit: 123rf

Simple lifestyle changes can help, so heres our ABC top tips to help manage the symptoms of SAD.

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What You Need To Know

  • Depression is different from feeling sad or unhappy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
  • Get help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
  • Women are affected more often than men.
  • Without treatment, depression can last weeks, months or years, but most people respond well to medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
  • Most people with clinical depression who seek treatment see improvement, usually within weeks.

What Causes Sad

Dear Winter, I

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • production of melatonin melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
  • production of serotonin serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • body’s internal clock your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

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