Autumn, with its colorful landscape, along with crisper weather and pumpkin lattes, is fully underway. While Fall marks the transition to an often long winter ahead, it can also be the onset of the seasonal blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), for many people. SAD is a type of depression that is typically triggered in late Autumn or early winter, when the days are shorter and the weather turns colder.

SAD’s symptoms overlap with those of general depression, including: feelings of sadness or ‘being in a funk’, decreased motivation, irritability, low energy, weight gain (often associated from craving more carbs), and even suicidal thoughts. The shorter days and lack of sunlight cause our brain to produce less of the “feel good” neurotransmitter, Serotonin. This, as well as decreased outdoor activity in the winter, can all contribute to the onset of SAD.

If you find yourself experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are several things you can do to help your mood. Two specific interventions have been found effective in treating SAD- use of a full-spectrum light (minimum of 10,000 lux intensity level) for about 20 minutes a day in the morning only -do not use the light in the evening- it might interfere with sleep ( Also, do not use the full-spectrum light if you have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder). This light mimics natural sunlight and “tricks” the brain into producing more Serotonin. The second intervention is to take a vitamin D supplement (after you check with your healthcare provider). A high portion of people living especially in the Midwest are prone to lower levels of vitamin D, which plays an important role in overall mood.

Some other helpful strategies include:

Schedule social activities- make sure you continue to be active with friends
Go outdoors, even if for only 10 minutes
Make a list of indoor activities, for example, try cooking a new recipe, journal, take an online course or start another hobby

If your symptoms don’t seem to be improving, therapy such as CBT can be helpful. If needed you can also discuss with your doctor if an antidepressant would be helpful .

Once you have identified if you have SAD, the good news is that treatment can be effective and give you some relief. Also, since it’s a seasonal disorder, you can anticipate it to start implementing helpful strategies early on.

By Dr. Jo Wolthusen