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Does the Change in Weather Make You Sad?

Written by Melinda Cruzen RN


SAD. Some people know it as the feeling. Others know it as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a form of depression that occurs with the change in the seasons, typically beginning in the fall to winter months and improving in late spring to early summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder typically begins and ends around the same time every year, year after year.


Why does the change in the weather affect your mood?


The complete cause of SAD is unknown, however, it is generally well accepted that the change in the light with the change in the seasons can affect your mood. Many people notice this without knowing why. We all know that sleep is important, and your circadian rhythm is disrupted with the change in the natural light you experience. This is why it is so important to have regular time outside in natural light every day, and also why you may feel more sleepy in the winter months. Your body is telling you to sleep more, because the daylight hours are decreased. The change in sunlight doesn’t only affect your circadian rhythm, but also can cause a decrease in serotonin levels. Serotonin, often called the “happy chemical”, is a neurotransmitter that is most well-known for its role in mood control. A decrease in serotonin can cause depression symptoms, such as increased sleep, lack of interest in usual activities, and intense feelings of sadness among others. To go along with the disruption in your internal clock and your brain chemistry, melatonin levels, which is involved both in sleep and mood, may also be altered with the change in the season, and ultimately the change in the light.


So, What Do You Do if You Feel Sad with the Change in Seasons…


The first thing you need to do is talk to a professional. Talk to your psychiatrist, therapist, doctor, or all three about how you are feeling. Your medical team is there to support you and guide you. Your medical professional may suggest light therapy, psychotherapy, exercise, supplements, medications, or a combination of any of these. Just like traditional depression, there are a number of avenues that can help with seasonal depression. And just like non-seasonal depression, SAD is a medical condition that should be taken seriously and requires diagnosis and treatment from a medical professional.


What are Some Non-Pharmaceutical Ways to Manage My SAD?


  • Light Therapy

Many individuals with SAD, utilize a treatment approach known as “light therapy.” Light therapy is when you use a bright light box, typically 10,000 lux for 30 minutes a day. This may help to trigger the responses that normally happen in your brain with sunlight-which is decreased during the winter months. Talk to your doctor about light therapy and if it would be right for you.

  • Exercise

Exercise can help decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression and SAD is no exception to this. Moderate to intense exercise releases endorphins, which helps to increase neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to heal and adapt. Exercise actually helps nerve cells to grow and make new connections, thus healing your brain. An added bonus of exercise? Endorphins also help to modulate the immune system, making your body stronger and more resilient to pathogens.

  • Vitamin D

It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from the sun in New England in the summer, and as the winter months approach and sunlight decreases, it only becomes more difficult. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with an increased risk for depression and fatigue. Talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested and taking a nutritional supplement.

  • Melatonin

Melatonin has been shown to help control symptoms of SAD in some patients. This may have to do with the alteration of light and how much melatonin is being naturally produced as a response to that. Increasingly, artificial light, especially from electronics at night, can disrupt our bodies ability to naturally produce melatonin. Talk to your doctor to see if melatonin is a good treatment for you.


Whether you are seeking natural treatments, or pharmaceuticals, it is vital that you talk to your health care professionals about your mood and your symptoms as they relate to your physical and your mental health. Health is a journey and a continuum, it’s our job to help you feel better and be the best version of yourself.


*Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Talk to your medical professional about how you are feeling and before beginning any supplements and/or exercise programs.


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