Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don’t let the change of seasons change your mood

Mental Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Oct 31, 2021

It’s natural to occasionally feel sad when the seasons change.  As the weather cools off, you may spend less time outside, or you may find yourself staying snuggled in your bed just a little longer. These behaviors usually adjust to a new routine for the fall and winter months.

But for some people, the winter blues are more serious, resulting in a type of seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

For people affected by SAD, it’s not easy to bounce back to their “normal selves.” It is especially common in the fall and winter months, often occurring at the same time each year.

“Once it starts to affect your functioning, whether it’s at home, work or with your relationships, then [seasonal affective disorder] turns more serious,” said Virginia Maxanne Flores, MD, psychiatrist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Mental Health Clinic – Temple.

Symptoms of SAD

If you don’t feel like your normal self, you may have some minor symptoms of SAD. Flores said common symptoms include:

  • Appetite changes—usually overeating or craving specific foods
  • A lack of energy and feelings of fatigue
  • Difficulty completing tasks or trouble concentrating
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and other social activities
  • Feeling more pessimistic
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • A lack of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed

What to do if you feel blue

If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms described above, there are things you can do.

Try to boost your mood and feel recharged with the following:

  • Spend at least 10 to 15 minutes outside every day to be exposed to sunlight.
  • Open the windows in your house.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Talk to family and friends, even if it may be difficult at first.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Lace-up your shoes and practice some form of regular exercise that you enjoy.

How light impacts your mental health

According to researchers, a possible cause of SAD is the lack of light in the winter months when the days are shorter.

The reason light is so important to our body is because of the specific hormones that are released when exposed to bright or natural light. Dr. Flores said that our bodies are physically altered by our environment or the weather.

“There are changes in the body’s production of melatonin if it’s darker outside,” Dr. Flores said.

Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s rhythm.

“If you’re willing to bundle up and get outside for 30 minutes a day, outdoor light is the best,” she said. “Even if it’s cloudy or overcast, you will still have access to more total light than indoor light.”

Remember, you’re not alone

If you think you may suffer from SAD, talk to your doctor or a mental health specialist. You are not alone, and help is available.

“Come in if you’re feeling these symptoms,” Dr. Flores said. “It never hurts to come in. We can ask you a few questions and give you some suggestions. Some people can take an anti-depressant just for a few months during the year.”

If you or someone you love may benefit from mental health support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor. We want you to welcome each new season with excitement.

Learn more about our mental health services.

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