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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Are you feeling depressed, down or under the weather? Has it been harder to get out of bed in the morning? Or is it the opposite, perhaps you are having difficulty getting enough sleep? As the temperatures drop and daylight hours decreasing, these feelings are all very normal. What you may be experiencing is Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The most common form of Seasonal Affective Disorder is winter depression that comes and goes with the season, recurring during late fall and early winter and lasting until the spring and summer seasons. While the pathology is not completely understood, it is thought that SAD occurs from a disturbance in circadian rhythms, or our response to light and darkness in our environment. Symptoms of SAD can often be similar to regular depression and may include:

Symptoms for Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Fatigue/Having low energy
  • Pervasively sad mood, nearly every day
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Craving and eating more starches/carbohydrates
  • Weight gain or weight loss when not dieting
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or despair
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Indecisiveness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal ideation or behavior

Tips to Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Experience as much daylight as possible or increase Vitamin D intake: Lack of sun exposure and insufficient dietary intake of Vitamin D is part of what causes SAD. Exposure to daylight and increasing your Vitamin D intake can lessen your symptoms. Daily walks outside, even when it’s cloudy can be very helpful, but do make sure to use sunscreen to protect your skin. An indoor artificial lamp that recreates dawn or daylight is useful too. Foods rich in Vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, oranges/orange juice, milk, eggs, cereal and mushrooms.

Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet: Don’t load yourself on comfort foods! Try more balanced meals and substitute sweets with nuts, fruits or yogurt for snacks. Hearty and balanced foods help combat having low energy and fatigue. For more information on a balanced diet, you can schedule a Nutritional Counseling appointment with our Registered Dietician at Health Services.

Stay active and get involved: Volunteer, join an organization or club, workout at the gym, or find a hobby. Attending Orange After Dark events is a good way to have fun and stay active! Research shows that exercise and pleasant activities can be effective ways to lessen SAD.

Spend time with family and friends: What better way to lift your spirits than to spend time with those close to you? Schedule lunch dates or sleepovers with your family and friends, spend an evening shopping, playing a game of basketball or relaxing together. Allow them to be there for you by educating them on SAD.

Seek professional help: If you continue to struggle with these symptoms, seek professional help. Psychologists can help determine if you have SAD and how best to treat it. Psychotherapy such as, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and/or antidepressant medications, have been shown to be effective treatment for SAD.

For more information, contact Syracuse University Health Services at: health.syr.edu or 315.443.9005 or visit the Center of Disease Control or American Psychology Association website!