More than just the Winter Blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder

December 10, 2021

By Rebecca Small, Wellness Coordinator

More than just the Winter Blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder

This can be a normal and common adjustment to the seasons and daylight hours changing, and is often referred to as the blues. However, if you’re experiencing significant changes in mood, energy levels, or general ability to function, you may be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

While you may have heard about SAD occurring during the winter months, there is also a less-common type of SAD that occurs during the summer months known as summer-pattern SAD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SAD is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, lasting about four to five months of the year. Those who struggle with SAD will likely experience some of the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, as well as symptoms specific to summer- or winter-pattern SAD.

Symptoms specific to winter-pattern SAD may include:

  • Sleeping too much (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates and sugary foods
  • Gaining weight
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like hibernating)

Symptoms specific to summer-pattern SAD may include:

  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

The good news? There are supports available to help cope with SAD. The first step is to reach out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They will be able to assess and confirm whether or not you are dealing with SAD. They may suggest light therapy for 20 to 60 minutes per day to replace the lack of sunlight you receive during the winter months. Other treatments include antidepressant medications, vitamin D supplements, and therapy.1

Outside of prescribed treatments, there are also simple things that you can do that may help to cope if SAD recurs.

  • Keeping track of when symptoms occur each year can be helpful in anticipating when it may occur in the following year
  • Journaling and identifying specific triggers may be helpful to you, but also to your doctor to help identify and treat symptoms
  • Spending as much time outside as possible during the day can help you soak up as much sunlight as possible, especially during winter
  • If summer-pattern SAD is an issue, finding ways to beat the heat can be useful. For example, using air conditioning and/or going outdoors in the early morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler
  • Establishing a sleep routine that allows you to get the recommended 7-9 hours/night can also be a good way to deal with insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Getting plenty of exercise and eating a balanced diet are also important to help nourish your body and mind,  which are both important to treating and managing depression

As always, if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s important to get professional help through your doctor or licensed therapist as soon as possible.

1 - Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment2015, 1–6.

Want to learn more about SAD? Check out these resources:

Struggling and need some FREE support? Make an appointment with a counsellor at NorQuest’s Centre for Growth & Harmony  or call 780.644.6155.