Skip to main content.

SAD: Overcoming the "winter blues" in a pandemic

Posted November 30, 2020

Woman staring out the window sadly

Beautiful colors, cooler temperatures and the anticipation of the upcoming festive holidays make fall a season favorite for many.

But for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the shorter days with intermittent sunshine can make for a long and dreary fall and winter season — both physically and mentally.

SAD is a reoccurring type of depression that tends to have a seasonal pattern. For most, symptoms begin in late fall and can linger around until late spring. Many health experts believe the diminished exposure to sunlight can disrupt a person’s melatonin and serotonin levels, adversely affecting their sleep, mood and overall daily functionality.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates about 5 percent of adults in this country suffer from SAD. This year, however, that number is expected to rise and symptoms may worsen for some due to COVID-19.

The effects of SAD are being compounded by the pandemic. The very things we’re doing to keep ourselves and loved ones safe (social distancing, cancelling family gatherings, skipping vacations) are contributing to added stress for all of us. In addition, major life changes, such as losing a job or changes in schooling, may cause depression symptoms to worsen.

All of these factors can play a part in increasing SAD cases this year over previous years. That’s why its important to understand SAD risk factors, symptoms and treatment to help you identify it and work to overcome the “winter blues.”

Risk factors and symptoms of SAD

There are several risk factors for SAD to consider, including:

  • Where you live. As you get further from the equator, you’re going to experience reduced levels of sunlight.
  • Age. Younger adults are more likely to develop SAD.
  • Family history. A family or personal history of depression or bipolar disorder puts you at a higher risk.
  • Gender. Females are more likely to develop SAD.

Symptoms of SAD are similar to other signs of depression. However, if you’re suffering from SAD, you probably have symptoms only certain times of the year, especially during the fall and winter months.

Symptoms of SAD to watch out for include:

  • Feeling depressed most days of the week
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, social withdraw
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Overeating, gaining weight, OR loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating

Managing SAD

As the weather grows colder and the days shorter, it’s important to take extra care of your mental health and well-being to keep SAD at bay. There are several measures you can try as part of your overall treatment plan.

Manage symptoms at home

Look around your home and find ways to lighten your mood. You’re probably at home more than usual due to COVID-19, so make it a happy, bright and decluttered space. Adding more lighting and pulling back the curtains to allow as much daylight in as possible can help improve your mood.

Engage in social activities

Build in ample social connections and carve out time for hobbies and other enjoyable activities to relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness. You can socialize with family and friends through video calls or engage in outdoor activities (i.e. going for a walk or a hike) together, while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Even in the wintertime, it’s important to get outside in the daylight and sunshine to boost your mood.

Make self-care a priority

Maintaining a daily routine, eating healthy foods and exercising, and getting a good night’s rest are all important daily self-care practices.

This year, you may find it more difficult to overcome SAD symptoms due to the pandemic. If that’s the case for you, schedule an appointment with your mental health provider to discuss your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. Many health centers, including Summa Health, are now offering telehealth visits.

Your provider may prescribe medication, phototherapy, or talk therapy to help you identify negative thought patterns and coping strategies.

If you have a history of SAD, don’t wait until symptoms surface. Schedule an appointment right away so you and your provider can begin a treatment plan now to avoid worsening symptoms.


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.