Seasonal Affective Disorder: When Everything Feels Dark

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Also referred to as SAD, seasonal affective disorder is classified by the DSM-5 (essentially the therapy bible of all disorders) as “major depression with a seasonal pattern.” Typically this means a depressive period that usually occurs in the winter and is resolved by the spring. While there can be summertime episodes, this isn’t often the case. It’s expected that roughly 10M Americans experience SAD, with women being 4x more likely to receive a diagnosis than men (Flick, 2019)! Typical signs and symptoms of SAD include little energy, lack of concentration/focus, struggle with a normal sleep cycle (as a result of shorter days), suicidal thoughts, persistant sadness or crying, and more susceptibility to getting sick.

So…how do we deal?

Thankfully, SAD isn’t forever. Oftentimes symptoms reside right around the time the snow starts to melt. However, living with SAD can feel never ending in the moment. Here’s some tips to help the dark winter days feel a little lighter.

Get out of the house!

Make use of the sunlight when you can. We get so little of it during DST, so being able to spend even 20 minutes outside can go a long way. Walking to a local coffee shop or trying to schedule a work meeting outdoors (bundled up, of course!) can have you double-dutying your tasks for the day with a little winter sunshine. The snow always looks prettier first thing in the morning, anyway. Vitamin D is crucial and if you think you need more, chat with your doc about taking a supplement.

Scheduling a social date with friends or a loved one can help you stay accountable to both yourself and someone else, and being in the company of others can help you to forget that it’s dark at 4pm. By the time you’re finished with dinner and drinks, it’ll feel like the right time to be heading home anyway and you’ll have had a full day.

Get a little “Light-Bright”

In addition to sunlight, infrared saunas and lightboxes can be great to combat SAD! Infrared saunas have TONS of benefits, including reducing inflammation and helping with chronic pain, boosting immunity (especially important in the winter months) and helping to detox the body. For more info on infrared saunas, check out our other blog post!

Lightboxes are fun little tools that mimic sunlight. Most lightboxes hover around 10,000lux. One lux is the equivalent of the amount of light you’ll see standing one foot away from one candle, meaning you’ll get the light of 10,000 candles! Whoa!

Practice your self-care

Be gentle with yourself during these times. Remember the spring will come and in the meantime, take advantage of the cold weather to do things you likely won’t in the summer, like taking really hot bubble baths or wearing your favorite matching flannel pjs (I know we all love those!). Exercising in ways that feel good, eating food that’s both tasty and nourishing, staying hydrated, practicing gratitude and reaching out are all essential to your wellbeing, now and always. Speaking of self-care, please reach out to any of the counselors at IOME for therapeutic support or to talk more about our sauna! Seasonal Affective Disorder feels lonely, but you’re not alone. We’re here and we’re happy to help, so don’t hesitate!


Please reach out to Sydnie at [email protected] for further questions or feedback.

Together we are better,




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