What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

In the beginning of the fall until the end of the winter many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a seasonal depression. There is less daylight during the fall and winter and serotonin, the neurochemicals in your brain that regulate your mood and functioning are effected. Also, too much melatonin, a brain hormone produced during the hours of darkness, causes depressive symptoms. Although your body expects to go to sleep when it is dark and wake up when it is light, that’s not the case in the fall and winter months.

Your biological clock changes your behavior in the fall and winter months due to the length of time in the day. The clock regulates your sleeping patterns and circadian rhythms making the dark days of fall and winter difficult to navigate. Your personal timer is broken due to the reduced intensity of natural sunlight.

Are SAD and Sadness the Same Thing?

Common symptoms of SAD include loss of energy which causes oversleeping, and difficulty concentrating and sluggishness, which makes it hard to complete tasks. Other symptoms include withdrawal and lost interest in activities, pessimism, irritability, anxiety, and weight gain. These symptoms are also similar to grief reactions experienced after a loss. Although the darkness of night and the darkness of grief can appear very much the same, they are not the same. When you are sad due to the loss of your loved one, the timepiece of your life clicks slowly. Every now and then an alarm goes off in your head triggered by the dark reality that your loved one is gone. You are sad because of the length of time your loved one lived, not because of the length of the day.

10 Ways to Combat Winter Doldrums

1. bundle up and eat your lunch outside and take advantage of the sunlight.

2. move your lounge chair and desk closer to the window.

3. install bright bulbs in all of the lighting fixtures in your home.

4. look into light therapy treatment or a sunrise/sunset simulator (ex. Dawn simulator, Sleep and Wake System) where a dim light goes on in the morning while asleep and slowly gets brighter. The clock helps align circadian rhythms like the natural rhythm of the sunrise.

5. take a walk during early afternoon, which one study found was just as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.

6. put limits on fattening and unhealthy foods as those with SAD often overeat, crave carbs, and gain weight.

7. restrict your time around people who are sick being that you may have a weakened immune system.

8. keep your sense of humor and remain hopeful as you struggle with negative effects of seasonal change.

9. surround yourself with people who understand that SAD is a real disorder and are willing to talk with you about it.

10. speak with your physician about antidepressant medications from the serotonine selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family and psychotherapy.

Bring Light Back into Your Life

The options for dealing with SAD can range from phototherapy to antidepressant medications. Choices for dealing with SADNESS due to your grief can be found throughout the Open to Hope website: www.opentohope.com. If you are struggling with both Seasonal Affective Disorder and the grief process, now you have a better understanding of what actions you need to take to bring light back into your life.


Barbara Rubel

Barbara Rubel, BS, MA, BCETS, DAAETS, is a nationally recognized author and keynote speaker and trainer on increasing self-awareness of skills and strengths that improve the ability to handle job burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. Barbara’s programs motivate professionals to build personal resilience. Barbara is the author of the book, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye and the 30-hour continuing education course book for Nurses, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helping individuals cope (4th ed.). She is a contributing writer in Thin Threads: Grief and renewal; Open to Hope’s Fresh Grief; Coaching for results: Expert advice from 25 Top international coaches; and Keys to a Good Life: Wisdom to unlock your power within. Barbara was featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Fatal Mistakes: families shattered by suicide, narrated by Mariette Hartley. She also developed the Palette of Grief® Program: Understanding Reactions after a Traumatic Death Barbara’s background includes working as a hospice bereavement coordinator and serving as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she taught undergraduate and masters-level courses in Death, Life and Health; Children and Death; Health Crisis Intervention; and Health Counseling. She currently is a consultant with the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime and co-wrote their training curriculum, Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma. Barbara received a BS in Psychology and MA in Community Health, with a concentration in thanatology, from Brooklyn College. She is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and diplomat with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

More Articles Written by Barbara