Seasonal sadness

Feeling down from the dark and cold of winter? That may be a sign of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It’s a type of depression that comes and goes with changes in seasons.

Most people with SAD have symptoms start in the late fall and go away in the spring and summer (though some do experience SAD in the summer). It’s more common in people who live far north or south of the equator. That puts us in New England at higher risk.

Signs of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

It may be happening because of:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • A drop in serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin – a brain that chemical affects your mood.
  • Unbalanced melatonin levels. Melatonin impacts sleep patterns and mood. The change in season can disrupt the level of melatonin in your body.

What you can do

If you think you may be depressed, seasonally or otherwise, talk to your doctor. He or she will recommend the best treatment for you.

If the weather’s got you down, sometimes these tips can help improve your mood:

  • Brighten up. Open your curtains and sit closer to bright windows while at home and work.
  • Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch outside, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially within two hours of waking up in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms.