December 10, 2021

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

BY: Autumn Johnson

The holidays can be tough, especially during a global pandemic. Seasonal Affective Disorder (also  known as “SAD”) can contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness. Here are some tips to help get you through the “winter blues.”

SAD is a form of depression that is related to seasonal changes and mostly occurs in the fall and winter months, although it occasionally comes in the spring and summer months. SAD was reported and named by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal in the 1980s, who struggled to come to terms with his own depression during winter in the United States. Rosenthal discovered that a reduction in lighting during the winter months caused this particular form of depression.[1]> Indeed, people who live in areas that are colder and darker during this period are more susceptible to SAD. For example, studies show that 1.4% of people in Florida experience SAD, while it afflicts 9.9% of people who live in Alaska.[2]> SAD is also more prevalent in Nordic countries like Denmark and Norway, where there is less sunlight during the day.

To meet the diagnosis requirements for SAD, you must have the following symptoms: depressive episodes during the fall and winter months, remissions during the fall and winter months, symptoms for two years that are not attributed to other depressive disorders, and depressive episodes attributed to SAD that outnumber depressive episodes attributed to other depressive disorders.

Some treatments for SAD include light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Light therapy uses a lightbox to emit lumens with different colors of light at wavelengths.[3]> Light therapy starts with the patient sitting in front of a light box with his/her eyes open. The patient should not look directly at the light to avoid eye damage. Light therapy can also be accomplished by spending more time in the sun or by letting more sunlight into an office space.[4] >This treatment aims to increase serotonin in the patient and decrease symptoms of SAD. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on changing thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes to improve personal coping strategies. This therapy aims to help the patient understand and maintain control over his/her emotions in a healthy way.[5]

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are also effective in treating SAD and can be prescribed if needed by a medical doctor. 

If you feel tired, depressed, and lonely you may have SAD, but you are not alone. People with SAD often express feelings of hopelessness and agitation. Fortunately, there are ways to fight back against SAD and enjoy the winter holidays.

Some other coping mechanisms include exercise, reading, watching movies, or going out with friends. Being around other people who have SAD can help you find different ways to cope with this disorder as well.

[1] Rosenthal NE, Sack DA, Gillin JC, Lewy AJ, Goodwin FK, Davenport Y, Mueller PS, Newsome DA, Wehr TA (January 1984). >“Seasonal affective disorder. A description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy”>. >Archives of General Psychiatry>. 41> (1): 72–80. >doi>:>10.1001/archpsyc.1984.01790120076010>. >PMC >2686645>. >PMID >6581756>.

[2] Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan (2014). >Abnormal Psychology> (6th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 179. >ISBN >978-1-259-06072-4>.

[3] Avery DH, Kizer D, Bolte MA, Hellekson C (April 2001). “Bright light therapy of subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder in the workplace: morning vs. afternoon exposure”. >Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica>. 103> (4): 267–74. >doi>:>10.1034/j.1600-0447.2001.00078.x>. >PMID >11328240>. >S2CID >1342943>.

[4] Beck, Melinda. (December 1, 2009) >“Bright Ideas for Treating the Winter Blues”>. (Section title: “Exercise outdoors”) >The Wall Street Journal>.

[5] Choudhury K (2013). >Managing workplace stress: the cognitive behavioural way>. New York: Springer India. >ISBN >9788132206835>.

About the Author

Autumn Johnson Portrait

Autumn Johnson is an attorney with The Stanley Law Group in Moneta, Virginia. She is a chairperson for the Young Lawyers Conference Wellness Committee.