How many of you have already been affected by the changing seasons? Although winter has not officially set in, I think we can all agree that this season can have both a positive and negative impact on our moods. For some, the seasonal changes can have a profound impact on their moods, which could stem from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of mood disorder that affects around five percent of the country’s total population each year. As a psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt Health System who specializes in mood disorders, I have seen the impact SAD has when left untreated, which can cause problems at work, school, home or with relationships.

Although fall and winter tend to be the most common times of year for the occurrence of SAD, with colder temperatures and less light, this mood disorder can occur at any time of the year. It is often dependent on the individual as well. Certain times of the year impact people differently. While the holidays may be a time of great joy and celebration for some, it could also be a time of loss and sorrow for others. This time period can also be stressful for some, especially when it comes to juggling responsibilities, visits, and travel. Students in particular may feel more stress during this time with the crunch of final exams and the close of the semester.

Some common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Extreme sadness or fits of crying
  • Inability to find joy in activities you normally would enjoy
  • A lack of energy or lethargy
  • Overuse or misuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Increased appetite or weight gain, or decreased appetite and weight loss

If you are someone with a history of a mood disorder, or a known family history, make sure that you are paying attention to any seasonal changes to your mood, if any. It may be worth checking in with your healthcare provider more often to get ahead of any seasonal impacts as well. If appropriate, your doctor may make some changes to your medicine or prescribe some alternate therapies, like light therapy.

There are also some other proactive ways to manage SAD, including getting plenty of exercise and eating healthier! Daily exercise not only helps fight SAD symptoms, but depression as well. Going outside for some fresh air and walk or jog with friends is a great way to socialize and get moving in the cold. A healthy diet is another way to deal with SAD. Although the holidays can make eating healthy difficult, try and eat as many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins as possible. Although eating heavier foods high in fat and carbohydrates may feel comforting in the cold, healthier diets actually put people at a lower risk of depression.

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Jason Addison
Jason Addison
Dr. Jason Addison serves as the service chief of the young adult unit for Sheppard Pratt Health System.