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Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD, seasonal affective disorder, winter blues, gloomy weather, short days

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs with the change of seasons. Often referred to as the "winter blues," seasonal affective disorder is thought to be triggered by the shorter days that come with the onset of fall and winter.

"Even in sunny Southern California, people can be affected by the shift in daylight," says Dr. Teresa Dean, a Cedars-Sinai primary care physician in Santa Monica.


"It's important that people stay aware of any changes they are experiencing and understand that it really may be the season causing them. Help is available to pull you out of that funk. Don't just accept these changes as your new identity."


Dr. Dean grew up in Alaska, where the long winter nights make residents more aware of SAD. But, she cautions, the condition is not exclusive to northern locations.

"Originally, it was thought that northern areas were significantly more at risk for seasonal affective disorder," Dr. Dean says. "But studies have shown that's really not the case: The shift in daylight—even if it's not as drastic—is still very impactful regardless of where you live."

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression:

  • Feelings of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Daytime drowsiness and lack of energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities previously enjoyed

"It looks like depression, but it comes with the season and should be resolved with the season," Dr. Dean says. 

"If it occurs for repeated winter seasons, then that's our trigger to consider seasonal affective disorder."



Treatments for seasonal affective disorder

You don't have to wait for the days to get longer for help managing seasonal affective disorder. In fact, Dr. Dean says, you shouldn't.

Some tips to combat SAD:

  • Get some sun  get outside early and make time later in the day to catch some rays again
  • Exercise – help your body release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings
  • Eat healthy – eat well-balanced meals to stay energized throughout the day 
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol  these can make depression symptoms worse
  • Socialize – interaction with others keeps your brain stimulated and is healthier than being inactive and isolated
  • Use a light-alarm clock  also known as a sunrise alarm clock, these devices rely on light to gradually wake you up


If your symptoms don’t improve, doctors may recommend prescription antidepressants to help correct chemical imbalances.

Dr. Dean encourages people to stay in tune with their body and not wait to seek help.

"It's important that people stay aware of any changes they are experiencing and understand that it really may be the season causing them," she says. 

"Help is available to pull you out of that funk. Don't just accept these changes as your new identity."