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What is “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD?


The winter months can affect people differently with some becoming very depressed as daylight decreases and cold temps take hold. Some people may even suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Some people love the wintertime. They love the cold, the crisp morning air, the wearing of winter clothing, the winter sports and everything that comes with the winter months. Others dread the winter months. They do not care for the cold, they do not enjoy that crisp morning air, they miss the prolonged sunshine, and they hate to bundle up and everything else there is about the winter months.

Luckily, most of us are somewhere in between those extremes. We can take it or leave it. We recognize that winter is a part of life as is summer and just deal with the parts that may not be particularly happy.

There are those who view winter as a time they are saddened or depressed. Some may be over excited by this time of the year. These conditions can be distressing and affect one’s ability to function effectively. They are known as forms of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD. This is defined as recurrent episodes of depression, mania or hypomania that occur at the onset of a season and leave at that season’s end. There are fall-winter onsets that end in the spring but there are also those who suffer from spring-summer onset that ends in the fall. We hear more about the fall-winter onset.

Some of the symptoms include a depressed mood most of the day. There is a marked diminished interest or loss of pleasure in most activities. Some people may gain weight while others lose weight. Some experience difficulties sleeping most days. Others actually feel as if they are sluggish in their movements. You may see a loss of energy or fatigue. Some people even express feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt. Others may see a diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness and last, there are the recurrent thoughts of death. Having five or more of these symptoms defines depression. These symptoms are distressful. They interfere with the ability to interact socially, care for a family and the ability to hold down a job.

Likewise those who become activated by the change in the season may experience inflated self-esteem, a decreased need for sleep, being more talkative than usual, and the feeling that the ideas in their head are racing. They may be easily distracted by unimportant things, and find themselves spending excessive time on activities which may harm them such as spending sprees, sexual encounters or foolish business investments.

The first step is to acknowledge there is a problem. The second step is to seek care. There are several routes to care. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you think is happening. The symptoms that you present will help them to know what to do.

We have all heard about getting enough sunshine and there are therapeutic ways to receive it. Just getting natural sunshine may not be enough. The use of a 10,000 lux fluorescent light box may be needed and there are standardized time usages that have been determined regarding usage. Some people may respond better to medication. Others may need medication and the lights to feel better. There are those who may need the addition of psychotherapy to do the trick.

Sleep hygiene is so important here. Get as much sleep as you need and then get out of bed. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is important, try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day including weekends. Try not to force sleep upon yourself. Exercise regularly, 20-30 minutes a day but exercise should occur at least 4-5 hours before you go to bed. Avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch. Avoid alcohol near bedtime, no “night caps.” Avoid smoking especially in the evening. Do not go to bed hungry. Make the environment in the bedroom comfortable, not too warm and more on the cool side. Turn off the lights. Avoid prolonged usage of your phone, computers or any screens before bedtime. Try to deal with your worries before bedtime, leave them out of the bedroom.

This is a problem that can be helped. Seek care.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at