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Mental Health

8 Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Written by

Isha Team


December 6, 2022


October 27, 2023

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is triggered by seasonal changes, typically during the fall and winter months. It can affect people of all ages and genders, but it is more common in women and those who live in areas with less sunlight. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), SAD affects about 5% of the US population and is more prevalent in northern latitudes. In this blog post, we will explore the pathophysiology, APA guidelines, and symptoms of SAD, and provide eight tips to help you cope with this disorder.

Pathophysiology of SAD

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to changes in the body's circadian rhythm, or biological clock. The circadian rhythm is responsible for regulating the body's sleep-wake cycle, appetite, and other physiological functions. The amount of light that the body is exposed to can affect the circadian rhythm, and disruption of this rhythm can lead to depression.

Research has also suggested that SAD may be related to a decrease in the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is involved in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep, and a decrease in its levels can lead to depressive symptoms.

APA Guidelines for the Diagnosis of SAD

The APA has established guidelines for the diagnosis of SAD. To be diagnosed with SAD, an individual must meet the criteria for major depression or bipolar disorder, and experience the following symptoms:

  1. Recurrent episodes of major depression that occur during the same season, usually winter.
  2. Full remissions or seasonal exacerbations of symptoms.
  3. No non-seasonal episodes of depression.
  4. Significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

Symptom Quiz

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, take this quiz to see if you may have SAD:

  1. Do you feel sad or depressed most of the day, nearly every day, for two or more weeks during the fall and winter months?
  2. Do you have a decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed?
  3. Have you noticed changes in your sleep pattern, such as sleeping more than usual or having difficulty falling asleep?
  4. Do you have changes in your appetite or weight, such as craving carbohydrates or gaining weight?
  5. Do you feel lethargic or have low energy levels?
  6. Do you have difficulty concentrating or making decisions?
  7. Have you noticed a decrease in your sex drive?
  8. Do you feel hopeless, worthless, or guilty?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may have SAD and should seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

8 Tips for Coping with SAD

If you have been diagnosed with SAD or suspect that you may have it, there are several strategies that you can use to cope with this disorder. Here are eight tips to help you manage your symptoms:

1. Seek counseling

Counseling can help you learn coping strategies to manage your symptoms, and can also provide you with support and encouragement. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of counseling that has been shown to be effective in treating SAD.

2. Get sunlight

Exposure to natural light can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve your mood. Try to spend time outdoors during the day, or use a light therapy box. A light therapy box emits bright light that simulates natural sunlight, and can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.

3. Stay active

Exercise has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, and can also help regulate your circadian rhythm. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, such as walking, running, or swimming.

4. Brighten your environment

One way to brighten your environment is by adding some decorations to your space. Seasonal decorations like Christmas lights and holiday-themed decor can help bring joy and excitement to your living space during the winter months. You could also add some indoor plants to your home to bring some greenery and nature into your living space. Not only do plants have the ability to boost your mood, but they also help purify the air.

5. Engage in physical activity

Regular physical activity has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, including those associated with SAD. Engaging in regular exercise can help improve your mood, increase energy levels, and reduce feelings of fatigue. Additionally, physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosters.

There are many ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, such as going for a walk or jog, taking a yoga class, or joining a local sports team. If you're not sure where to start, consult with your doctor or a fitness professional to develop a plan that's right for you.

6. Practice good sleep hygiene

Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining good mental health, and it's especially important for individuals with SAD. Lack of sunlight during the winter months can disrupt your circadian rhythm, leading to sleep disturbances and feelings of fatigue. It's important to practice good sleep hygiene by establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding screens before bedtime, and creating a relaxing sleep environment.

7. Seek counseling or therapy

If you're struggling with SAD, consider seeking counseling or therapy. Talking to a mental health professional can help you develop coping strategies and gain a better understanding of your symptoms. A therapist can also help you explore underlying issues that may be contributing to your symptoms, such as past traumas or relationship difficulties.

It's important to note that seeking therapy doesn't mean that you're weak or that you can't handle your problems on your own. In fact, seeking help is a sign of strength and shows that you're committed to improving your mental health and overall well-being.

8. Build a support system

Building a support system is another important step in coping with SAD. This can include friends, family members, or support groups who understand what you're going through and can offer emotional support when you need it. It's important to have people in your life who you can talk to and rely on for help when you're struggling.

In addition to seeking support from loved ones, consider joining a support group for individuals with SAD. Support groups provide a safe and non-judgmental space to share experiences and connect with others who are going through similar struggles.


Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a difficult condition to manage, but there are steps you can take to cope with its symptoms. From seeking counseling or therapy to brightening your environment and engaging in physical activity, these tips can help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being.

If you're struggling with SAD, it's important to remember that you're not alone. Reach out to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional for help. By taking steps to care for your mental health, you can feel more energized and motivated to enjoy life, even during the dark winter months.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  2. Daskalakis, Z. J., Levinson, A. J., & Kennedy, S. H. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 229, 239-248.
  3. Golden, R. N., Gaynes, B. N., Ekstrom, R. D., Hamer, R. M., Jacobsen, F. M., Suppes, T., Wisner, K. L., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2005). The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-Analysis of the Evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(4), 656-662.
  4. Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment, 2015, 1-6.
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  6. Rosenthal, N. E., Sack, D. A., Gillin, J. C., Lewy, A. J., Goodwin, F. K., Davenport, Y., Mueller, P. S., Newsome, D. A., & Wehr, T. A. (1984). Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Description of the Syndrome and Preliminary Findings with Light Therapy. Archives of General Psychiatry, 41(1), 72-80.
  7. Tuunainen, A., Kripke, D. F., & Endo, T. (2004). Light Therapy for Non-Seasonal Depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2, CD004050.
  8. Wirz-Justice, A., Benedetti, F., Terman, M., & Chronotherapeutics, G. (2019). Chronotherapeutics for Affective Disorders: A Clinician's Manual for Light and Wake Therapy. Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers.

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