Things to help with seasonal depression

14 Ways to Ease Seasonal Depression

Depression that arrives or worsens during the winter months may be a sign of seasonal affective disorder.

By Beth W. Orenstein and Michelle PugleMedically Reviewed by Allison Young, MD


Medically Reviewed

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If shorter days and shifts in weather zap your energy and make you feel blue, you’ve got classic symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression triggered by changes in daylight and weather that occur primarily in winter.

Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t certain, but some think that those seasonal changes disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, which cause us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times.

Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being.

Whatever the causes of one’s SAD may be, the signs and symptoms typically can include:

  • Feelings of depression that happen most of the day, every day, in a seasonal pattern
  • Having tiredness or low energy
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite or weight gain
  • Sleeping too much

RELATED: 10 Ways to Chase Away Warm-Weather Seasonal Depression

How Common Is SAD?

About 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States have SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And as many as 20 percent may have a mild form of it — often called the “winter blues” — that starts when days get shorter and colder, the organization adds.

Women and young people are more likely to experience SAD, as are those who live farther away from the equator. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible.

"It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people's ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York.

To help manage SAD, here are a few options you might want to consider.


Talk With Your Doctor


Because SAD is a form of depression, it needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional. "There are a number of screening questions that can help determine if someone is depressed," Dr. Pierce says. "Your doctor will be able to sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to some other form of depression."

If you have SAD, seeing a professional can help you work through it. About 12 years ago, Arlene Malinowski, PhD, 58, recognized she had SAD when she read about the symptoms in a magazine article.

“I would notice a drop in how I felt and perceived the world in the winter,” the Chicago resident recalls. The psychiatrist she had been seeing for depression confirmed it.

RELATED: Talkspace vs. BetterHelp: Which Online Therapy Is Better?


Ready Your Mind in the Fall


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.

“It’s 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.


Try Light From a Box

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Bright light therapy — exposure to artificial light to help keep one’s circadian rhythm on track — is widely considered a first-line treatment option for SAD, according to a review published in 2017 in the Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine. One way to try bright light therapy is by using a light therapy box.

Also known as phototherapy boxes, these devices give off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the management of SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic. The light from the therapy boxes is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and is provided in different wavelengths.

Typically, you’ll sit in front of the light box for about 20 to 30 minutes a day. This will result in a chemical change in your brain that boosts your mood and alleviates symptoms of SAD, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Experts usually recommend using the light box within the first hour after you wake up in the morning, the Mayo Clinic adds.

Although often safe and effective, light therapy boxes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Be sure to talk with your doctor about whether a light therapy box is right for you.


Use Dawn Simulators

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Dawn simulators can help some people with SAD. These devices are alarm clocks, but rather than waking you abruptly with beeping or loud music, they produce light that gradually increases in intensity, just like the sun.

Different models of dawn simulators are available, but the best ones use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight. Researchers found that dawn simulators were as effective as light therapy for people with mild SAD, according to a study published in July 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.


Consider Taking Antidepressants


If light therapy or psychotherapy don’t completely relieve your symptoms, prescription antidepressants may help you overcome seasonal depression, as long as you avoid medications that might make you sleepy, reports the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

When taking antidepressants for SAD, you’ll typically need to use the medication from autumn until spring, the organization says.

It's important to recognize when the symptoms of SAD start, and to see your doctor for a prescription before they escalate, says Ani Kalayjian, EdD, an adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York City.

RELATED: 12 Signs Your Antidepressant Isn’t Working


Prioritize Social Activities

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Dr. Malinowski tries to get the jump on treating SAD by filling her winter months with enjoyable activities. “Proactive is the way to go,” says Malinowski, who participates in a writing group and book club.

Why are social activities important if you have SAD? Studies have found a causal relationship between social isolation and depression, says Burgess. And lately, isolation has been in no short supply as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One recent review article addressed the mental health impact of quarantining during the ongoing pandemic. The review, published in March 2020 in The Lancet, indicated that these periods of isolation can have a long-term psychological impact on people, including symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Finding creative ways to stay connected with others during times of increased isolation is important, says Burgess. She suggests hanging out with relatives and friends at a local park, playing outdoor sports or yard games, or going on walks when the weather allows.

If wintertime darkness, weather, and COVID-19 have you staying indoors more than desired, there are ways other than in-person interactions to socialize.

“When the winter weather makes it super cold to be outside or unsafe to drive, we can FaceTime with friends and extended family members or set up Zoom calls with them,” Burgess says.

RELATED: An Introvert’s Guide to Socializing Again in a Partially Vaccinated World


Add Aromatherapy to Your Treatment Plan

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Aromatherapy — the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes — may also help those with SAD.

A review published in June 2020 in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine indicates that essential oils could potentially help lessen symptoms of depression and other psychological issues like anxiety and sleep problems.

That said, the authors of the review note that evidence of the mental health benefits of essential oils thus far are small and somewhat limited in usefulness.

When it comes to SAD in particular, essential oils could potentially influence the area of the brain that's responsible for controlling moods and the body's internal clock that influences sleep and appetite, Dr. Kalayjian says.

And although the evidence for aromatherapy may be limited, using essential oils could be a simple and safe way to improve mental well-being — particularly when paired with another soothing activity, like a taking a bath or enjoying company by candlelight.

The safest ways to use aromatherapy include body oils, aroma sticks, and jewelry made with absorbent materials to which you can apply essential oils, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports. The organization advises against ingesting essential oils or using essential oil diffusers.


Stick to a Schedule

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People who live with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Maintaining a regular schedule improves sleep, which can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal depression.

"Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times," Pierce says. And eating at regular intervals can help you avoid overeating. Many people who live with SAD find they gain weight in the winter, according to the Mayo Clinic.

RELATED: How to Start a Self-Care Routine You’ll Follow


Get Moving

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As it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help alleviate SAD. Exercise can also help offset the weight gain that is common with SAD, Kalayjian says. Malinowski says she's more vigilant about sticking with her exercise and yoga routine in the dead of winter.

Outdoor exercise is most helpful for relieving SAD symptoms. But if you can't exercise outside because it's cold or snowy, try using a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine set close to a window at home or at the gym.

Not comfortable going back to the gym yet because of COVID-19? You can still break a sweat at home by following instructional workout videos online from organizations like the American Council on Exercise and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

RELATED: 7 Tips for Getting Back Into a Workout Routine if the Pandemic Disrupted Yours


Let the Sunshine In

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If you have seasonal depression or wintertime SAD, you'll want to get outside as much as you can during the day to take advantage of what sunlight there is. On cold days, bundle up and take a stroll around the block at noon or soon after — that's when the sun is brightest.

Also, when you're indoors, keep your blinds open to let in as much natural light as you can. And if you’re working remotely, choose a workspace near a source of natural light if possible. Indoor lighting is much dimmer than natural light, and this can negatively affect SAD symptoms, reports Yale Medicine.


Take a Vacation or ‘Staycation’

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Taking a winter vacation to warmer climates can help alleviate symptoms of SAD by helping you escape cold and overcast skies, Kalayjian says. Even a short break from your daily routine in a sunny place can be helpful with winter depression.

“The excitement that can lift your mood can start as you prepare for your vacation and linger for a few weeks after you return,” Kalayjian adds. Malinowski plans visits to warm-weather friends in winter for just that reason.

If your travel plans have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, consider planning a “staycation” instead — taking time off from work and finding ways to experience typical vacation activities within your own home and community.

RELATED: How to Make Staycation Feel Like Vacation During a Pandemic


Consider Avoiding Alcohol

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People may drink more for many different reasons during times of stress or sadness, Burgess says. “When someone is feeling ‘down’ they are more likely to drink alcohol, but drinking causes further depression, hence the downward spiral,” she explains.

Also, if you notice that you’re drinking on more days of the week than before, or drinking a larger amount of alcohol than you used to, these changes could eventually lead to an addiction, she says.

Burgess says it’s important to determine what’s behind the behavior. She suggests asking yourself, “Why do I think I’m drinking more?” If you think you may have a drinking problem, talking your doctor can also help, Burgess adds.

RELATED: 6 Alcohol-Free Ways to Unwind at the End of a Long Day


Keep a Journal

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Writing down your thoughts can have a positive effect on your mood. "It can help you get some of your negative feelings out of your system,” Kalayjian explains.

How can journaling help you cope with depression? According to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, it works by helping you prioritize life’s problems and identify your depression triggers, as well as what helps lift your mood.

Include your thoughts, feelings, and concerns when you journal. A good time to do so is at night so that you can reflect on all that happened in the last 24 hours.

RELATED: How Maintaining a Gratitude Journal for 1 Month Made Me Happier


Get Enough Vitamin D

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Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for depressive symptoms. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that low levels of vitamin D — caused by low dietary intake of this vitamin or not enough sunlight exposure — are common in people with SAD.

Experts don’t know for sure whether taking vitamin D supplements can relieve symptoms of SAD, the NCCIH reports. But ensuring you get enough sunlight during the day and incorporating vitamin D-rich foods into your diet may help.

Talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels and whether supplements would be right for you, Kalayjian suggests. Malinowski upped her vitamin D during the winter at her psychiatrist’s suggestion and has found that it helps.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline | SAMHSA

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

The service is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.

In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.

The referral service is free of charge. If you have no insurance or are underinsured, we will refer you to your state office, which is responsible for state-funded treatment programs. In addition, we can often refer you to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale or accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you have health insurance, you are encouraged to contact your insurer for a list of participating health care providers and facilities.

The service is confidential. We will not ask you for any personal information. We may ask for your zip code or other pertinent geographic information in order to track calls being routed to other offices or to accurately identify the local resources appropriate to your needs.

No, we do not provide counseling. Trained information specialists answer calls, transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states, and connect them with local assistance and support.

  • Suggested Resources

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    It's Not Your Fault (NACoA) (PDF | 12 KB)
    Assures teens with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs that, "It's not your fault!" and that they are not alone. Encourages teens to seek emotional support from other adults, school counselors, and youth support groups such as Alateen, and provides a resource list.

    After an Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Your Family Member After Treatment in the Emergency Department
    Aids family members in coping with the aftermath of a relative's suicide attempt. Describes the emergency department treatment process, lists questions to ask about follow-up treatment, and describes how to reduce risk and ensure safety at home.

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    For additional resources, please visit the SAMHSA Store.

Last Updated: 08/30/2022

What is seasonal depression? | Moscow

Article author: Nazarev Nikolay Vasilievich , narcologist, psychiatrist, sexologist, physiotherapist

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, is a variant of recurring depression that begins in the fall/winter season. Women aged 18-30 are most susceptible to this condition, but it can occur at any age, even in a child. nine0003

How is seasonal depression different from clinical depression?

The difference follows from the name itself - this type of depression occurs in the autumn-winter period, while clinical depression does not depend on the season.

What are the causes of seasonal depression?

There are several of them. Reduced sunlight can lead to a decrease in serotonin, a brain chemical that is responsible for our good mood and emotional stability. Another hormone directly dependent on the amount of sunlight is melatonin. It is produced with the onset of darkness, causing our body to fall asleep. Since there is less light in winter, this hormone can increase in the body, and, as a result, there is a feeling of lethargy and drowsiness. nine0003

Why does seasonal depression occur in autumn and winter?

The combination of low levels of serotonin and high levels of melatonin cannot but affect the human biological clock. In people with seasonal depression, the change in circadian rhythms depending on the time of year is not consistent with the seasonal change in daylight hours, which creates difficulties in regulating the functioning of the body.

What are the signs of seasonal depression?

In general, the symptoms of seasonal depression are the same as those of any other depression. This is an oppressed, depressed state, low mood, regardless of external circumstances; decreased or loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure (anhedonia). You may also be concerned about fatigue, decreased performance, and decreased vitality. nine0003

Additional symptoms may be completely non-specific: feelings of guilt and worthlessness, anxiety, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating; desire to be alone, irritability, eating disorders, drowsiness or insomnia.

What should I do to cope with seasonal depression? Recommendations.

There are no unambiguous universal recommendations, because each person is individual. Before visiting a doctor, you can try to walk more, exercise regularly, keep a daily routine, do not “treat” with alcohol and caffeine, eat foods rich in tryptophan (turkey, milk, egg whites, bananas, dried dates, peanuts, sesame, pine nuts ), because tryptophan promotes the formation of serotonin. nine0003

Does taking vitamin D and light therapy help?

Yes. Light therapy is an effective adjuvant treatment for depression. Adequate blood levels of vitamin D (40-80 ng/mL) are certainly important as well. In order to understand, you need to take a prophylactic or therapeutic dose of vitamin D - first you need to pass an analysis called the “level of 25-OH-vitamin D”, understand what level is at the moment and then choose an adequate dose.

What can make seasonal depression worse?

First of all, it is stress, bad habits, abuse of alcohol, caffeine. From the non-obvious - diet, unbalanced diet, physical inactivity.

How do you know when to see a doctor for seasonal depression?

At the slightest suspicion of seasonal depression, diagnosis and subsequent treatment should be carried out exclusively by a highly qualified specialist, a psychiatrist, since similar symptoms can appear with more dangerous mental illnesses and some somatic ailments. nine0003

Can seasonal depression be prevented?

You can try to prevent. If you adhere to the so-called healthy lifestyle: eat varied and regular meals, walk a lot in the fresh air, observe the daily routine. But all this is difficult to do in the conditions of life in a metropolis.

What should you do if you notice that your loved one/friend has seasonal depression?

First of all, you need to understand that depression is a disease, not a weakness of character, and that depression is treatable. The best thing you can do is to advise to go to a specialist. You can offer to go to counseling together if the person is afraid. Separately, I would like to remind parents that depression "all ages are submissive." Moreover, it is in childhood that depression usually manifests itself atypically, and therefore it is especially difficult to identify it. In children, depression is most often manifested by behavioral disorders. Therefore, you need to be attentive to changes in the well-being and behavior of your loved ones. nine0003

Appointment with a psychiatrist

For more details, consult a qualified specialist at the Semeynaya clinic.

To find out prices for a psychiatrist's appointment or other questions, follow the link below:

"RG" tips: Six reliable ways to protect yourself from seasonal depression

Fresh issue


Fresh number

10/05/2016 21:34



Six reliable ways to protect yourself from seasonal depression

Irina Nevinnaya

Sunny September this year pleased only residents of the southern regions of Russia. In the Central region, and even more so in the northern regions, the Indian summer did not happen. Gloomy weather, rapidly decreasing, and besides, cloudy days - and here you are: with whomever you talk, everyone complains about a breakdown and blues. So close to depression. nine0003

How to deal with it? Where does just a bad mood that you can deal with on your own end, and really serious violations begin when you should seek help from a doctor? Professor, head of the department of the Federal Medical Research Center for Psychiatry and Narcology named after A.I. V.P. Serbian Alexey Bobrov.

Those changes in mood, which are noted by many today, it turns out that this is only the beginning of seasonal difficulties. “Strictly speaking, the time has not yet come for autumn or seasonal depression,” says professor, psychotherapist Alexei Bobrov. “It will come a little later, closer to November, when daylight hours approach the minimum. Because those neurohormonal changes in our body, with which we associate such a state with, are connected precisely with the shortening of daylight hours. But after all, not only the length of the day affects our psyche.We all face external negative factors: we experience personal and social problems, receive negative information, experience stressful situations.Someone it is easier to cope with this, someone is harder. And the fact that we live in a not very favorable climatic zone, of course, is an additional risk factor." nine0003

How to cope? It is not at all necessary to “whip up” the mood, especially by using such dubious means as large doses of alcohol. When things get tough, you need to allow yourself to relax and unwind. In moderation, of course.

Here are some simple tips from Dr. Bobrov.

1. Care must be taken to increase the feeling of joy. Remember what you like, what you enjoy. But, of course, the actions must be reasonable. Many, for example, begin to "seize" a bad mood, leaning on sweets. This is a dead end path. For a short time, the mood improves, carbohydrates give a quick burst of energy, but this does not last long, and the body begins to demand a new dose of sweet "dope". As a result, we only gain excess weight, and this becomes an additional reason for frustration. nine0003

2. The easiest and most effective way is to communicate with pleasant and optimistic people. No need to lock yourself up, hide, withdraw into yourself: spend as much time as possible with friends, come up with common activities and entertainment. If you do something interesting that brings pleasure and satisfaction, your mood will improve.

3. Moderate exercise is an excellent remedy for autumn depression. It is not necessary to go to the gym and pull iron. Long walks in the fresh air, swimming in the pool, badminton, volleyball, cycling, rollerblading, aerobics and yoga - everyone can choose the activity that gives the greatest pleasure. nine0003

4. Organize proper nutrition. Sweets have already been mentioned above - the less harmful sugar, the better. Nutritionists also recommend eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They help maintain normal levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain - these substances are very important in the fight against depression. The best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish (such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines), walnuts, and flaxseed and hempseed oils.

Taking vitamins can also help, although, strictly speaking, the effect of their use has not been scientifically proven, and therefore the approach should be individualized, Professor Alexei Bobrov believes. nine0003

5. But a proven remedy is to establish a sleep and wakefulness regimen. This means that you need to sleep at least 7-8 hours, go to bed and get up at the same time. When we spend half the night watching TV or in social networks, we not only do not get enough sleep (which in itself is wrong and harmful to the body), we also “knock down” our internal clock. And "filling up" in the morning and on weekends, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to spend extra time in the air during daylight hours. If you didn’t get enough sleep at night and there is an opportunity, you can afford to take a nap during the day, but not in the late afternoon, so as not to aggravate problems with falling asleep, Dr. Bobrov advises. nine0003

6. In addition, light therapy helps to cope with low tone and improve mood. There are disputes about what kind of light and what wavelength works best as an antidepressant, says Alexey Bobrov. But in any case, in the dark, you need to illuminate the apartment brighter.

All these "hygienic" measures will help to cope with the autumn blues and adapt to the winter season. But it happens that the negative is aggravated, a person cannot cope with his condition on his own. What are the signs that the condition is serious and you should seek medical attention? nine0003

"One of the main signs of a pathological condition is persistent apathy," explains Professor Bobrov. fall asleep for a long time or wakes up in the middle of the night and toils without sleep until morning), and, conversely, excessive drowsiness. Appetite is disturbed - this may be its loss, and, as mentioned above, a tendency to overeat. All these are serious reasons for treatment see a doctor

Don't blame yourself or others for your condition. Depression is treated, there are many ways to help

There is no need to be afraid of talking to a psychotherapist: no one will register you, there will be no "stigma". And the help of a specialist is absolutely necessary if the depression is so deep that suicidal thoughts arise. It is important to understand here: do not blame yourself or others for your condition. Depression is treated. In modern psychotherapy there are many methods and means to help. "

By the way

Light therapy is increasingly being used as a natural treatment for autumn-winter depression. Now special lamps are being produced: they are placed at a short distance, about 30-50 cm from the eyes. The duration of the session is 30-40 minutes. There are no contraindications: the only thing is that it is not recommended to use such a device shortly before bedtime, so as not to disturb falling asleep. For a week - 10 days, usually a person's condition becomes better. Another possibility is unusual light alarm clocks.

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