Do your energy levels drop in fall and winter? Does your motivation to meet friends and family, or even get out of your house, disappear with the arrival of the sun, and do you start to feel more “normal” with the return of spring and daylight? ? You may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

The winter blues are well known and quite common, after all these months are loaded with many holidays which can be emotionally draining. If you add to that the little time spent in the sun, especially if you work in an office, and the cold weather that seems to say “stay home and put yourself under the duvet”, it is not no wonder people tend to be a bit antisocial and grumpy from around November until April. For some people, the “winter blues” aren’t just about snuggling up in front of Netflix for a few weekends in a row. People who suffer from seasonal depression actually suffer from a type of depression that occurs in certain seasons.

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal depression is a form of clinical depression that comes and goes with a seasonal pattern. It is also called “winter depression” because that is usually when the symptoms are most pronounced and visible. This bout of depression begins and ends around the same time each year. Millions of people suffer from seasonal depression in its most severe form every year, and it seems to affect women more than men. SAD affects people from September to April, with peaks in December, January, and February. For most people, their first winter of seasonal affective disorder occurs between the ages of 18 and 30, although a change in location, such as a major move later in life, can cause symptoms to appear.


Researchers aren’t sure what causes SAD, but it is a type of major depressive disorder. Patients with SAD can be just as depressed as those with other forms of depression, it is a serious condition. Although the exact reasons for SAD are still unclear, it is believed that vitamin D deficiency and lack of sunlight prevent part of the brain, the hypothalamus, from functioning properly, leading to disruption of circadian rhythms. When our circadian rhythms are out of whack, it can affect our melatonin and serotonin levels. In people with seasonal depression, melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy, can be produced at higher levels, leading to an increased feeling of lethargy. On the other hand, serotonin levels decrease. Serotonin is a hormone that affects mood and appetite. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression.

As seasonal affective disorder seems to be more common in women than in men, being a woman is a risk factor. Additionally, there appears to be a genetic predisposition to seasonal affective disorder, as it often runs in families. Not surprisingly, seasonal affective disorder is linked to sunlight, and where you live plays a role. Seasonal depression is more common in people who live far north or south of the equator, due to reduced sunlight hours in the winter and longer days during the summer months.


Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder vary from person to person. In general, the symptoms start out mild and worsen during the winter months, from December to February. They begin to subside when the sunny days of spring appear.

People with seasonal depression experience:

a drop in energy
sleep disorders
loss of interest in activities
difficulty concentrating
depressive feelings
a decrease in libido
changes in appetite or weight gain
Sugar addiction and cravings for carbs and other comfort foods are also common in people with seasonal affective disorder.

It can be difficult to determine if a person is suffering from “traditional” depression or if it is SAD. The telltale sign is when you start to experience those depressive feelings. Usually the feelings begin in September, peak during the winter months, and begin to subside in March or April. Often, a diagnosis will only be made after two or three consecutive winter seasons with symptoms.

Health professionals will assess that you have had depression that begins and ends in a specific season each year, no episodes of depression during other seasons, and more seasons of depression than seasons without depression. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, which may include lab tests to rule out other health issues and a psychological evaluation.

Treating seasonal depression with natural remedies

There are several natural solutions you can try to treat SAD.

1. Get a softbox

If your outdoor hours are limited during the winter months, a softbox can be a worthwhile investment. Indeed, the majority of patients suffering from seasonal depression see their condition improve. Light therapy allows you to be exposed to bright artificial light during the most difficult months. It is recommended that patients with seasonal depression use light therapy daily, from the first signs of symptoms until spring, when the seasonal depression subsides. Most people need 15-30 minutes of therapy per day and will begin to feel improvements within two to four days, with full improvement occurring within two weeks. As symptoms of seasonal depression return quickly after stopping light therapy, it is essential to continue treatment during the winter months. It is also often recommended to perform the light therapy treatment in the morning to avoid difficulty falling asleep later in the evening.

2. Keep exercising

It can be hard to hit the gym when you’re feeling good, let alone when you’re not up to it. But regular exercise has been proven to help fight traditional types of depression, and seasonal depression is no different. Staying active increases the production of beneficial chemicals that can help alleviate depressive feelings and even brain fog. In one study, just 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill for 10 consecutive days was enough to significantly reduce depression. Research also suggests that the frequency and regularity of exercise, rather than its duration or intensity, has the most positive effect. You don’t have to run a marathon or take up CrossFit to reap the benefits of exercise.
Join a group fitness class or practice yoga. Everything is useful.

3. Take a vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, has been linked to depression. Patients with seasonal affective disorder often have low levels of this vitamin. Although scientists aren’t sure exactly why, it’s worth seeing your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Since most American adults have some type of vitamin deficiency, adding a supplement could help you feel better and even improve bone health and boost your immune system.

4. Get outside

When there is a ray of sunshine during the cold, dark months, take advantage of it. Sleep with the curtains and blinds open to take advantage of the slightest glimmer of sunlight in the morning. Break up your work day with an early afternoon walk to naturally absorb vitamin D. Cover up well and try to get as much natural light as possible. Your brain and your body will thank you for it.
You’ll earn points if you can exercise outside, whether it’s a solitary morning walk or a game of hoops with the dog.

5. Talk about it

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that helps people change their patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, can help you change the way you think, focusing on positive solutions instead of say, “Forget it, I’m dropping the dinner plans I made. Although CBT is useful for many types of depression and mental health conditions, there is renewed interest in its use as a treatment for seasonal depression. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that CBT may be more helpful for patients with SAD than long-term light therapy. The study followed 177 people with seasonal affective disorder. For six weeks, they received either light therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy designed for seasonal affective disorder, and then they were checked over the next two winters.

During the first winter, light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy reduced symptoms of depression by equal amounts, but by the second check-up appointment, cognitive behavioral therapy took the lead. In the group of patients who underwent CBT to treat their seasonal affective disorder, 27.3% saw their depression return the following winter, compared to 45.6% for those who underwent light therapy. People who had CBT but still experienced a return of their seasonal affective disorder had milder symptoms than those who had light therapy. The difference could be that CBT teaches people skills and coping mechanisms they can use anytime, whereas light therapy requires spending some time daily to reap the effects, yet not feeling to control his emotions.

6. Eat a healthy diet

It all comes down to food, doesn’t it? People with seasonal depression crave comfort foods, starches, sweets and the like, but eating this way will make you feel worse. Instead, favor a curative and anti-tropical diet. A diet high in lean protein, leafy green vegetables and fish helps keep hormones in check and boosts serotonin levels. When you crave carbs, opt for complex whole-grain varieties like wholegrain pasta and bread, rather than low-nutrition white carbs.

7. Ask for help

Depression of any type can feel extremely isolated. Reaching out to friends and family and establishing a support network can help ease the burden. If you think you are at risk for seasonal depression, do not hesitate to consult a health professional.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.