'Tis the Season: How to Cope with SAD

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Autumn is here! Unfortunately, with the darker days and colder temperatures, autumn also ushers in an unpleasant side effect for a large number of people: Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

I have a mild form of SAD and know that it impacts me in a few ways, so I'm on a mission to help others since many people don't even realize they have this issue--and even those who do might not know there are simple treatment options. Let's see how many people we can help together! 

What is SAD?

SAD is a form of depression that happens at the same time each year (typically fall/winter) and is thought to be associated with a lack of sunlight.

Several days last week were cloudy in my area, and I could feel the effects from my mild form of SAD. The best way to describe my symptoms is that it feels like a slight "heaviness" descends upon me and affects my energy levels and concentration. I'm sure other people have different symptoms that are worse than mine. I immediately pulled out my lightbox (discussed below) and made sure to get outside for some sunshine.

I have become a fan of integrative medicine, which some people like and others don't. But it's important to note that SAD is not an alternative/integrative health concept and is very much accepted by mainstream medicine (though there are alternative approaches to SAD treatments).

I wanted to show this to my own family, so I decided to point them to the Mayo Clinic as a great source. Then, I decided to share this with my SparkPeople family :).

Top Points about SAD

Here are some notes I took from the Mayo Clinic's pages about SAD and other sources:

1) As mentioned by the Mayo Clinic, WEBMD, and many others, SAD is a form of depression. So, it's not "just the winter blues". If you have more than mild symptoms when the seasons change, it could be worth asking your doctor about this.

2) A possible cause of SAD is low serotonin levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, "A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression." I have had my serotonin levels tested, and they were lower than they should be.

3) Sunshine is a very effective treatment for SAD. Unfortunately, unlike sunlight, light therapy boxes don't appear to stimulate the production of Vitamin D, so it's still far more important to get as much sunshine as possible in the fall/winter. Another possible treatment, if recommended by your doctor/practitioner, is to supplement with high-quality vitamin D3.

4) The Mayo Clinic lists family history as a risk factor, stating that "People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression."

5) The Mayo Clinic also says, "Light therapy is one of the first-line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms." I am not a super-expert at these devices, but this is the light therapy product I use. It is currently the #1 rated light therapy product sold on Amazon. For only $70, don't expect this to be the most rugged device ever, but I've had mine for a couple of years with no issues and have recommended it to others.

6) The SparkPeople program of a good diet and consistent exercise is very helpful in conjunction with the treatment of SAD. Exercise in particular can help you deal with stress, which can help with SAD.

Visualize this sunshine, and then go grab your own sunshine!

SAD Sharing

On my blog, I have listed several links for SAD support. If you or a loved one is experiencing SAD symptoms, I would strongly encourage you to check them out!

Also, I believe so much in sharing this issue with as many people as possible that if you forward this email to your family and friends and post that you did this on my blog, I will select a random winner and send them a signed copy of my New York Times Best Seller, The Spark.

Let's all work together to stay happy this fall/winter instead of being SAD!

Weekly Check-In

Check-in time! Just click to this blog and share any small steps you took to reach your goals the prior week OR a goal you have for the upcoming week.

Have a great week, everyone!



Chris (SparkGuy)

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Great article! Report
Interesting! Report
It happens Report
good advice Report
When I was working it always was hard go be at work before the sun was up and leave after the sun was down. Report
Great read! Report
I take Vitamin D3 daily and for a few short weeks I used a light therapy box last year to see if it might help me deal with depression due to SAD. Unfortunately I had developed the beginning of macular degeneration before my cataract surgery on my eyes and after using the light therapy I visited my eye doctor again, and found that the macular degeneration had worsened. I now take PreserVision AREDS2, and Omega 3s twice a day and eat salmon or tuna three times a week or other cold water wild caught fish. I have another appointment with my eye doctor at the end of October to check my eyes and I am hoping that the macular degeneration hasn't advanced. I spend many hours on the computer which is blue light as well, and I intend to ask my doctor about glasses that filter out the blue light making it safer to spend so much time on the computer and watching TV. I now wear sunglasses whenever I am driving or out in the sunlight. I think this would be a good topic for an article on SP. I hope to SEE and READ one on SP soon! Report
Exercise is not a means to an end. It's a tool for beginning your best life. Report
I don't know if I suffer from this too, but I have always hated dreary days. I know I feel yucky when the weather is dismal. I don't feel like doing anything. I hate it but such is life. Sunshine is not always with us.
I don't know if that special light would help me, because I just don't like dreary days! I sure wish I could change the way I feel. Report
You don't necessarily need full spectrum lights to treat SAD. Some people find that blue tinted lights work better. Report
Thanks for the timely topic. Years before I heard of SAD I knew that my energy and initiative took a hit in the fall. I always feel a rapid upswing in well being after mid-February. Right now I'm struggling to get out of bed and exercise when it won't begin to get light for another two hours, and the mornings are going to get darker yet. Those full-spectrum bulbs are on my shopping list today! Report
My father had SAD, mine is milder than his was. I use full spectrum compact flourescent light bulbs in all of my spaces in the house, my vanity, my home office, my sewing table etc. I have a full spectrum bulb on my deskat work as well. Report
I suffer from SAD and I am currently in the beginning stages. We have had sunny days the last couple, but, the next week is going to turn colder, it now gets dark here at 6pm
I currently do take 10,000iu daily of vitamin d3, remember d3, is the one you need.
I try to read and exercise and clean my house and talk to friends online, such as SP and keep my mind active and occupied.
It is worse for me because I live in an area that is often icy and muddy and snow covered and not served by the local road crew.
My own yard and driveway is in a dark location and doesnt get alot of sun to thaw out the ice, so if its bad, I get stuck inside for days.
I feel this dread building up, but I am sure hoping I can control it and try to get thru this long winter and keep reminding myself there will be sunny days and I will get to be outside and enjoy the sun. Report
I have SAD too and I keep up on eating right and working out. I also try to get some sun light in too.....so hard in the winter tho. You mentioned about giving this information to a loved one with it....well I have a loved one with it but the information won't help them. I went to the vet with my dog and she was has it too. Report
Living in N CA although we sure can have less sunshine in the winter months, with the drought we are having now we dont get so many rainy days, but in the past I have had to deal with something close to this.
this week my goal is just to keep sticking to my plan and not giving up. Report
Thanks for reminding me to start my Vitamin D again. Report
I can't use light boxes due to an eye condition but find that getting full-spectrum light bulbs for my regular floor, table, & desk lamps helps tremendously. The only LED bulb I've seen labeled full-spectrum is made by Sylvania and hard to find. I read somewhere that LED bulbs of "daylight" color with a CRI of 90 or greater should provide benefits. Otherwise, there are many incandescent and CFL bulbs that are full-spectrum. Report
Thanks, Chris! I'm buying one! Report
Thank you. Good to hear. I have been looking for help with my SAD besides meds. I love going south for the winter but this year it's not going to happen. Report
Thank you for sharing, I loved this article!
I'm sure it is going to help many people feel better.

I have had a mild SAD similar to yours, and I have a lightbox that I use from November to February.
Since I joined SP 3 years ago and spend 45-90 minutes outside every morning, plus the lightbox, I hardly have any symptoms at all. But I still turn on my little blue light lamp every morning in the winter for a half hour, while I check SP / news on the internet. Report
I think it's awful that society just doesn't let us hibernate LOL Report