Beating the Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Owl Practice Blog
Beating the Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Beating the Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Do you ever feel down during the deep, dark days of winter?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a well-known depressive disorder that affects millions of people every winter. Originally described and named by psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal in 1984, the media has massively popularized the concept over the last 20 years, turning it into a cultural meme.

Today, it seems like any drop in mood during the winter months is filed under “SAD,” but the truth is that it’s a real specifier for a recurrent depressive disorder that could require mental health treatment. In fact, there’s often a burst of appointments made at mental health practices around January or February every year that can be chalked up to SAD-related symptoms.

What Are The General Symptoms

While SAD is generally associated with the winter months, it can occur any time of year, in any season. It’s marked by a relapse and lifting of depressive symptoms at the same times every year.

Symptoms can vary, depending on the season you’re affected by SAD. In the fall and winter, SAD is usually marked by:

  • Low energy
  • Increased appetite/weight gain
  • Oversleeping
  • Depression
  • Decreased libido

In the spring and summer, symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite/weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What Are the Causes of SAD

Aside from the changing of the seasons, it’s currently unknown what causes SAD to manifest. Some researchers speculate that it may have to do with light exposure. During the winter, the hours of daylight are significantly reduced, while in the summer, they’re extended. Sunlight seems to have an effect on serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain. These seasonal changes in light exposure could be the cause of the sleep-related and mood-regulation symptoms associated with SAD.

Relapses of SAD could also be a sign of an underlying depressive condition. Seasonal patterns can be a specifier for bipolar disorder, as well as other significant conditions. As there are major treatment differences between all of these conditions, arriving at the correct diagnosis is vital for the relief of symptoms.

Are There Any Treatments?

One of the most popular treatments used for SAD is light therapy. Using a lightbox, a light that emits more lumens than a regular in-home light, you can simulate sunlight exposure. This may help your brain regulate melatonin and serotonin levels better. Similarly, going outside for longer periods during daylight hours can be helpful to mitigate symptoms.

Some people suffering from SAD may benefit from antidepressant treatments. This may be recommended in more severe cases, as the side effects and withdrawal effects of antidepressants can be difficult to navigate for those who are only feeling a little down. Treatment should begin several weeks before the change in season to give the patient’s brain chemistry time to adjust to the medication.

The most natural method of treating SAD is simply physical activity. Daily exercise can help mitigate symptoms of depression, insomnia, and fatigue. All of these treatment methods can complement each other and be combined for best results, though mileage may vary depending on the person.

Many mental health professionals find that they’re busier during the winter months due to SAD-related symptoms in patients. To better manage the workload, it can be helpful to use a practice management solution like Owl Practice. Our calendar tools will help you keep track of appointments and make better use of your time throughout the day. All of your session notes will be kept safe and secure on our encrypted Canadian servers and be constantly backed up to ensure that you’ll never lose a thing. During this cold and dark busy season, it’s great to have Owl Practice in your corner!

If you’d like a more in-depth look at all of our practice management features, please sign up for a free demo! If you have any questions or comments about our services, we invite you to contact us at

As always,

Practice Wisely


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