APU Health & Fitness Original

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Keeping Away the Winter Blues

By Gayle Walter, Ph.D., MCHES®
Faculty Member, Public Health

For many of us, it’s not unusual to feel tired, hopeless, and unmotivated during winter’s long, dark, and cold days. However, these feelings may actually be symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons; it usually starts and ends at the same time each year. Even though SAD can appear during any season, the winter months are the most frequent time it appears.

Related link: How to Get and Stay Motivated to Build a Healthy Lifestyle

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may include:

  • Feeling sad or depressed most of the day
  • Having low energy
  • Sleeping too much
  • Losing interest in those activities that you once enjoyed, such as participating in physical activity or socializing with friends

For students, suffering from SAD could mean not participating in your classes and procrastinating when it comes to your schoolwork.

Causes of SAD

There are many causes that contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder. For instance, one cause can be your biological clock. With the reduced level of daytime sunlight in winter, your body’s internal clock may get disrupted with too much darkness and not enough sunlight. Penn State University notes that disruptions in your biological clock are more pronounced during the months of January and February.

Another cause may be a lack of melatonin. The Mayo Clinic states that a change in season may interfere with the body’s level of melatonin and serotonin.

Melatonin is a sleep-related hormone, and its production increases during darkness. A lack of enough melatonin may explain why you may feel more tired during the winter months, which can contribute to mood swings and depression. 

Who Is Affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to Penn State University, approximately 6% of the population in the United States is affected by SAD. Young people and women are at higher risk for this disorder, but SAD can affect anyone. Symptoms of SAD typically start around the age of 20 and decrease around the age of 50.

Related link: 5 Habits to Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

Coping with SAD

For many of us, the feelings of tiredness, depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating do not occur on a daily basis. But if you feel down for several days and you can’t get motivated to do those activities that you normally enjoy, then it may be time to see a healthcare provider.

It’s important to seek treatment when it’s needed. SAD can get worse and lead to:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Problems with school, work or relationships
  • Substance abuse
  • Other mental health disorders 

If you’re experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are ways to manage your symptoms and prevent them from getting worse. One option is to participate in psychotherapy, which may help you identify any negative thoughts you may be experiencing that are contributing to your symptoms.

Another option is to email our university chaplain team. You can also reach them by clicking the “Success Center” link at the top of your ecampus homepage and entering “chaplain” into the search box that appears on the next page.

Other suggestions are to increase the amount of light in your home or work environment. You can open drapes, paint walls brighter colors or install brighter light bulbs. Many people have also benefited from light box therapy.

Participating in physical activity may also be helpful, especially when it is something you enjoy. Also, consider changing your diet. Modify your diet by eating more lean proteins, vegetables and fruit, rather than candy or cookies.

Michigan State University also recommends maintaining a regular bedtime and trying hard to keep a regular sleep schedule. It is also beneficial to create a plan that balances your study time with rest and self-care to support your mental health. In order to keep those winter blues away, explore effective ways to cope with SAD and try to do something nice for yourself every day.

Dr. Gayle Walter is currently a part-time faculty member in the Public Health program. She earned her Ph.D. in Public Health and her Master of Public Health (MPH) from Walden University with an emphasis on community health promotion and education. Her undergraduate degree is in health services administration. Gayle has been teaching for several years in both graduate and undergraduate programs in public health and health care administration. Her subject matter areas of expertise include the U.S. health care system, the social determinants of health and cultural competency.

Comments are closed.