Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common, recurring form of depression that occurs seasonally, usually beginning in the fall and lasting throughout the winter months. About 10 million Americans are affected by SAD with women being diagnosed four times as often as men. If you’re one of the millions of Americans experiencing SAD, it’s important to remember you’re not alone, and there are ways to cope.

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or helpless
  • Hypersomnia or excessive tiredness
  • Overeating, with strong cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reduced motivation
  • Trouble waking up
  • Irritability
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Social withdrawal or “hibernating”

While the exact cause is unknown, SAD is more prevalent in places farther from the equator where there’s reduced sunlight and vitamin D. Other risk factors can include being younger, being female, having a family history, and having major depression or bipolar disorder.

According to Mayo Clinic, having SAD can lead to problems at work or school, substance abuse and other mental health problems, including thoughts of suicide. Because of this, it’s especially important to anticipate and manage your symptoms by finding treatments that work best for you.

Treatment and tips for managing SAD include:

  • Light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This involves using a light box daily that produces artificial light. Check with your doctor or therapist to learn more.
  • Going outside. To compensate for reduced sunlight, it’s helpful to seek the sun as much as possible. Go outdoors or try to sit near a window. Or, if you have a cat that likes to sunbathe, sunbathe with them. (I’m only half joking about copying your cat sunbathing, but it’s a similar idea and makes for great bonding time!)
  • A healthy diet. While eating a healthy diet can be difficult during the holidays, proper nutrition is important for your body and brain. In fact, research continues to point to a healthy diet for a healthy mood, and one clinical trial found that a healthy diet can be a powerful antidepressant. Avoid processed foods, fast food, high-fructose corn syrup (a subsidized junk food linked to obesity and other health problems), and foods with several ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Aim for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and lean meats.
  • You probably knew that exercise would be listed after diet. The old tried and true “diet and exercise” method seems to help. Also, countless studies demonstrate that exercise can help ease symptoms of depression. From releasing feel-good endorphins to distracting your mind, exercise is useful to combating SAD. Plus, you’ll probably look and feel more confident, too.
  • Yoga and meditation. Both yoga and meditation have been linked to mood-boosting benefits. When coupled with deep breathing, these practices help ease depression and calm the mind.
  • Vitamin D and other supplements. With reduced sun exposure, we also receive less vitamin D. Adding vitamin D to your diet is important for many reasons, including managing depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, may also help alleviate depression.
  • Social connections. Reach out to others by having coffee with a friend, going to a movie with a family member or cuddling with your pet. While it’s difficult, try your best to relieve symptoms of loneliness, isolation and depression.
  • Expose yourself to stories and images that bring joy. There’s a lot of bad news out there. Try to find stories that make you happy. Looking at images of animals, children and other cute things can be a quick and easy mood booster.
  • Counseling. Psychotherapy can be very effective at managing SAD. Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for a list of counselors or therapists in your area.
  • Medication. Antidepressants are useful for some people experiencing SAD. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

This holiday season it’s important to remind your employees about their EAP benefits, which include counseling and other resources for those dealing with SAD.

Managers should also consider scheduling an organizational training session from our FEI Training Catalog on such topics as Understanding Depression, App Away the Holiday Blues, Move to the Front: A Brain Science Approach to Resilience, and many more.