Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Tips to Help You Through our Long, Dark Winters

It’s no surprise that living in a northern climate can affect our mood, sleep. and energy levels.  But you may not be unfamiliar with the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—a mood disorder that leaves many feeling lethargic, agitated, and unmotivated during the winter months.  While the general condition refers to changes in season, for many it’s a situation of coping with the “winter blues”.  Trust me, I feel it too.  Especially in Alberta when our winter months can be longer and cooler.  Rather than brushing it off as a Canadian thing, let’s address it face on.  What should we understand about this condition and what can we do about it?

Experts say it is related to changes in our biological clock, which regulates hormone release, metabolism, and other important biological processes in our body.  When seasonal cycles change, along with the exposure to sunlight, temperature and day-light saving time (yes, this can create some biological rhythm confusion too!), our bodies sense the change and respond accordingly.  When less sunlight is sensed by the body, chemicals in the brain can become imbalanced and create mood swings.  Our sleep is also regulated by a variety of hormones that can also become imbalanced when day-light saving time kicks in.

So, what are some ways we can combat these seasonal chemical changes without having to move to a southern climate?

  • To fully understand the extent of this condition, visit your family doctor for a complete review of your lab work. This can help eliminate other conditions that may be contributing to your physical and mood changes.
  • Light therapy: this is something that I have personally tried. It involves a specialty light of 10,000 lux (brightness level).  For fall-onset SAD, this helps to replace some of the missing light that triggers changes in brain chemicals.  I place this lamp about 6 feet away from me while I am working or studying and it has been effective for early hours of the morning in winter darkness.
  • Vitamin D Supplementation: sometimes vitamin D deficiency due to lower exposures to sunlight can be a contributor to SAD. While no complete evidence is available whether Vitamin D is helpful in preventing or treating SAD, deficiency has been cited as a cause.  For myself, I take a Vitamin D supplement each day (1,000 International Units) to help combat the deficiency.
  • Exercise: One of the best ways to fight depression, regardless of whether it is seasonal in nature, is to engage in physical exercise. Whether it’s yoga, high-intensity interval training, or dance lessons exercise helps release endorphins and other brain chemicals that improve mood.  If you’re feeling lethargic and emotionally upset, sometimes the best therapy is some exercise.
Mayo Clinic, “Symptoms and Causes” in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Retrieved from:
Cleveland Clinic, “Seasonal Depression”, Retrived from:
Mayo Clinic, “Diagnosis and Treatment” in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Retrieved from:
Penckofer, Susan et al, “Vitamin D and Depression: Where is All the Sunshine?” in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, Volume 31, Issue 6. 2010. Retreived from: