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Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to avoid getting SAD this winter

By Adam Hornung

Nov 23, 2016

Seasonal Affective Disorder How to avoid getting SAD this winter

The winter blues can start to kick in as the temperature gets lower, the days get shorter, and sunlight starts to hibernate. When Utah’s famous (or infamous) inversion sets in, residents are subject to days or even weeks of little or no sunshine and cold, frigid temperatures. Staying indoors coupled with the cold, gray days of winter can leave anyone a bit blue. But what if it’s more than that?

For some people, winter can mean developing a case of seasonal depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms such as irritability, excessive sleeping, and loss of interest usually start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel morose.

Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal funk you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

While the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown, doctors believe several factors contribute to it. The reduction in sunlight during the winter may decrease serotonin, the brain chemical that affects mood, and melatonin levels — which regulate sleep patterns — may also be disrupted.

Tips to help kick SAD to the curb:

  • Go outside. Even on cold and overcast days, outside light can help. So bundle up, grab some hot cocoa, and go for a long walk or eat lunch outside.
  • Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open the blinds, sit near windows, and give your body as much access to natural light as possible. Often during the winter inversion season, heading to the mountains above the inversion line will expose blue skies and sun!
  • Exercise. Consistent physical activity helps reduce stress and anxiety. Moving your body regularly will help lift your mood and keep symptoms of SAD at bay.

When to see a doctor

It's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. That’s 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.