October 26, 2020

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and How Can I Cope?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of depression that typically begins in the fall and can last throughout the winter. SAD can cause changes in energy levels, sleep schedules, appetite, mood and others. While individuals can experience these symptoms differently, it’s important to validate them and learn how you can cope.  

Unfortunately, during this pandemic, it’s likely that more individuals will struggle with SAD. COVID-19 has introduced major life changes and trauma that can easily exacerbate the severity of seasonal depression. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to check-in with yourself about how you’re feeling and evaluate what you can do to prevent or decrease common symptoms.

5 signs you may be struggling with SAD

1.    I’m sleepy throughout the day and also struggle to sleep at night

2.    My eating habits have changed—I’m eating irregularly and craving starchy, sugary foods

3.    I’m not interested in activities or social gatherings—I’d rather stay home

4.    I feel hopeless and unmotivated to meet my daily responsibilities and seek out new opportunities

5.    Feelings of stress, anxiety and irritability are occurring daily

Researchers have found that SAD is most likely attributable to three main factors: decreased production of serotonin, increased production of melatonin and irregular circadian rhythms. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates the body’s mood. As the amount of daylight during winter decreases, your body’s ability to produce serotonin also decreases. A lack of serotonin can lead to symptoms of depression. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates and enhances your sleep. While the relationship between melatonin and SAD is not clear, we know that melatonin production is directly correlated with darkness. As your exposure to darkness increases, for example when you sleep, so too does the production of melatonin. However, during winter months when there is less daylight and more time spent indoors, melatonin production can increase causing symptoms of fatigue and low energy throughout the day. Circadian rhythms, or your body’s internal clock, also respond to changes in sleep schedules as a result of longer, darker days. This can cause symptoms of abnormal eating and fluctuating moods.

5 ways to cope with SAD

1.    Find time to exercise during the day—this will increase your energy levels and exposure to daylight

2.    Eat healthy meals regularly—try your best to schedule your mealtimes and include seasonal fruits and vegetables give you long lasting energy

3.    Keep up with your daily responsibilities. It might help to write out your weekly tasks, whether they be school, work or social related on a notepad or calendar. This will hold you accountable for the week.

4.    Try mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness practice is the ability to be fully present—this will allow you to be more aware and intentional throughout the day.

5.    Seek professional help—if you feel like you’ve exhausted every option on your own or your symptoms are worsening, please reach out for more support. You are not alone.

Contact Us

It’s normal to experience changes in your mood as the seasons change—however, it’s important to recognize if your symptoms are worsening. COVID-19 has complicated how we are able to engage in others and carry out our daily responsibilities. If you’re struggling, don’t wait. Charlie Health is here to support teens, young adults and their families through providing personalized, online mental health treatments. Call today to find out which treatment program is right for you.  


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Claire Ellison, LCSW

Laura Sebulsky, MBSR

Director of Admissions and
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