Learn more about dealing with seasonal affective disorder

You know the feeling — it’s late afternoon and the sky is already darkening. You might be driving to and from work in the dark, and then spend most of the day stuck indoors.

When the days get shorter, you may begin to feel a less enthusiastic and active. You may find yourself going to bed earlier, sleeping a bit more, and even eating more. Many people notice slight fluctuations in their routine and mood during winter months.

Learn more. Contact Behavioral Health Services at UPMC. Call ​1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000

People who feel this change much more dramatically experience more than the winter blues. They may have periods when they have difficulty functioning and are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Shorter days and a lack of sunlight during the winter months may cause symptoms of SAD such as:

  • Tiredness and decreased activity level
  • Crying spells and mood swings
  • Grouchiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Body aches
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Trouble sleeping or a desire to hibernate
  • Cravings for carbohydrates and/or overeating

So, what can you do? There are several treatments you can use to cope with SAD.

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Ways to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Get outside

Make a plan to get outside during daylight hours, particularly in the morning.

Consider taking a short walk during your lunch break or a 10-minute stroll in the afternoon. If you do eat inside, search for a spot near a window.

Consider trying a winter sport or activity. Make plans to go ice skating on the weekend, or buy some snowshoes and go for a hike. Snowshoeing can be a fun, relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors. It can also lead to a lot of belly laughs as you try to figure out how to walk in your new gear.

Try light therapy

Light therapy is good for coping with SAD because it replaces missing sunlight with artificial bright light. It involves sitting in front of a specially designed light box for 30 to 45 minutes each day, typically in the morning.

Light therapy is affordable, but talk with your doctor before trying it. UPMC’s Behavioral and Mental Health Services also can help you find the right therapy.

Make plans with friends and family

When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to make time to see people. Try to schedule some fun activities with family and friends, which can help boost your mood. Make a list of things you love to do, whether it’s going to the movies or browsing a bookstore with a friend.

Let loved ones know how SAD is affecting you so they can encourage you to get out of the house and have some fun even when you’re not up for it.

Related: Hope for Those with Treatment-Resistant Depression

Take up a hobby

Winter is a good time to try out a new hobby. If you don’t know what you want to do, consider things you liked to do as a kid.

Did you love to visit the library or throw around a ball? Dust off that library card, or gather your kids or nieces and nephews for a game of catch in the backyard. If you want to try something brand new, like knitting or meditation, look for classes or groups in your area.

Feeling the effects of SAD? Visit the UPMC Behavioral and Mental Health Services website to find resources.

Keep a regular schedule and eat a balanced diet

Try to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Shorter daylight hours during the winter months can disturb your body clock.

Keeping a regular schedule also can help improve your mood and energy level. Same is true for meals, so eat at regular times and follow a balanced diet. Avoid sugary beverages and drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine in the evenings and be mindful of your alcohol use. Drinking alcohol can have a negative effect on your natural sleep stages.

RELATED: What’s the Link Between Depression and Heart Disease?

Get treated for SAD

It’s normal to feel a bit more tired and down during the winter months. If these feelings interfere with your ability to function and enjoy life, talk to your doctor. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is treatable with psychotherapy and antidepressant medicine.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.