Food for Thought: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

January 12, 2021

By Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

The holidays are over, bills are coming due, weather is cooler, days are short, and spirits are low. Could winter blues be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

We just had the shortest day of the year in late December. With shorter days and a decrease in light during these winter months, health and mental well-being can be affected. Do you or someone you know have SAD?

What is SAD? According to Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, draining your energy and making you feel moody.”

People have had symptoms of SAD for years, but only recently has it been recognized as a seasonal affective disorder. Studies show that women, older teens, and younger adults are more likely to be affected with this condition. Research also shows that people living in areas with more sunlight during winter are less affected with this condition. Seasonal affective disorder can begin to affect people in September and continue through April. 

Symptoms of SAD include: 

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of energy
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite, weight gain, or craving carbohydrates
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Oversleeping or difficulty awakening in the morning
  • Reduced work productivity
  • Withdrawal from social contacts

According to researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is primarily due to sunlight deprivation. One option of treatment includes daily light therapy called phototherapy. This treatment includes strong fluorescent light. Medications, exercise, and stress management are other options.

The following are a few ways to lift your spirits and ease SAD symptoms:

  1. Make your environment brighter. Sit next to a window for sunlight or next to artificial light.
  2. Eat smarter. Avoid candy and carbohydrates that can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.  
  3. Exercise. A study from Harvard University suggests that walking fast under bright lights may be even better for seasonal depression.
  4. Turn on the tunes. A study was conducted to show that listening to upbeat or cheerful music significantly improved mood.
  5. Help others. Volunteering your time can improve mental health. 
  6. Get outside. Walking and spending time outside even when temperatures are cool can improve focus, reduce symptoms of SAD, and lower your stress level.

If you’re feeling blue this winter, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. The important thing to remember is that there are treatments that can alleviate the symptoms of SAD. Seek an evaluation from your physician to discuss your symptoms and the various options that could assist you. 

Spice Cake Muffins

1 box spice cake mix

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin

2 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

Mix all ingredients. Pour batter into muffin tins about ¾ full and bake according to box directions. Submitted by Janice Lynch, Grant FCE Club.