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Breaking Down SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

A new year is upon us, as well as winter. Now that the holidays are over, the winter blues creep in for some people, which affects not just their mental health, but their physical health. Learn about SAD and how it results in physical symptoms and how to combat them, so you enjoy all that winter has to offer.

How Winter Affects Our Mental Health

Winter can take its toll on our health with cold temperatures and the inversion Utah is famous for, so it’s no wonder why many people go into a depression-like state. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a kind of depression that follows the seasons. An interesting fact is that you can have summer SAD or Winter SAD. 

The disorder affects between 4%-6% of people, meaning they have winter depression. Another 10-20% experience mild SAD, with women experiencing it four times more than men. It begins typically late fall or early winter and leaves by late spring.

Symptoms of SAD

SAD usually doesn’t start until young adulthood and can cause the following symptoms:

  • A drop in energy level
  • A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weight gain
  • A change in appetite (cravings for sweet or starchy foods)
  • Irritability
  • Not interested in social events
  • Oversleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches or stomaches


These symptoms are also indicative of a Vitamin D deficiency, which you get mostly from not enough sunlight, so it makes sense that some people may have these symptoms in the winter when sunlight is less. 

Light Therapy for SAD

For mild symptoms, you may need some light therapy, in the form of a lightbox that you sit in front of or a light visor you wear as a cap for thirty minutes daily in the fall and winter. If it helps, you can use it until spring. Don’t stop light therapy in the winter, or your symptoms may return. 

When used correctly, light therapy has few side effects, such as eye strain, fatigue, headache, or insomnia (if used too late in the day). Do not use tanning beds for SAD, since the light sources tend to be high in ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can do damage to your skin and eyes.

When to See a Doctor for SAD

If you can’t tolerate light therapy or it’s not working, you may need to speak with your doctor. They may suggest taking some form of Vitamin D as a supplement or a prescription medication for the winter, such as a low-dose antidepressant. They may also refer you to a psychologist for behavior therapy. 

A comprehensive approach may succeed when a singular one doesn’t, so your doctor may prescribe light therapy and medication or behavior therapy and Vitamin D supplements. 


Contact Ardu Recovery Center

If SAD overlaps with another mental health disorder, such as anxiety or bipolar, consider getting professional help from a recovery center. Or, if SAD has resulted in substance abuse, please call us for assistance. You don’t need to go through winter suffering from depression, so contact our staff for information about our programs and how we help you overcome mental health disorders and get back your life.