Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder: techniques and treatments to help combat wintertime depression

By Richie Almeida, Integrated Marketing Specialist on November 30, 2023

Here are a few ways to help lift your mood and make positive changes this winter.

Winter can be the most wonderful time of the year for many, but for others, it can put mental health and well-being to the test.

With the changing of seasons comes shorter days and less sunlight, bitter-cold temperatures and minimal outdoor activity—causing millions of adults to experience a form of depression during the winter months known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

In fact, about 5 percent of U.S. adults will go through what some call the “winter blues,” but SAD is much more complex than that.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern—with symptoms lasting as long as four to five months. Although some may experience this during spring and summer, symptoms typically start in late fall or early winter.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of SAD also include many that are associated with major depression—and while not every person will experience every symptom, here are a few to be aware of:

  • Feeling depressed nearly every day for most of the day
  • Lack of interest
  • Experiencing sleep problems
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Having frequent thoughts of suicide or death

With wintertime SAD, additional symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Social withdrawal

We know as an insurance professional you have a lot on your plate—caring for your clients, renewals, endless meetings, prospecting… the list goes on—and when you’re dealing with this depression on top of a heavy workload, motivation may be lacking and everyday tasks can start to feel much more difficult.

When times get tough, self-care will be important—and adding a few daily habits that are meant to help with mental wellness to your routine can make a difference. Here are 4 techniques to consider:

1. Set realistic goals

When dealing with SAD, a heavy workload can seem even more daunting. Have a hectic week coming up? Be sure to set realistic goals and try not to take on too much. Set priorities and break larger tasks into smaller ones if you can.

2. Get regular exercise + eat right

When feeling down, finding the motivation to exercise can be tough. But did you know that doing so can not only benefit your body, but your mind as well?

According to Harvard Medical School, low-intensity exercise sustained over time releases proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make connections—which improves brain function and makes you feel better. They also reported that a study found that those with mild to moderate depression could get similar results obtained through antidepressants by exercising for just 90 minutes each week. This is due to the release of brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine—which helps lift your mood and fight stress.

Pair your exercise program with balanced meals and you can find even more benefits. Research shows that adding fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants to your diet can be associated with a decreased risk of depression.

3. Seek sunlight

Because decreased sunlight exposure has been connected to a drop in serotonin, which is a brain chemical that affects your mood, getting outside during the winter months to soak up some sun will be important. Doing something as simple as rearranging your office so you’re sitting by a window or taking a break to go on a walk can help make up for lower vitamin D levels.

4. Talk to someone

Opening up to someone about your mental health is better than dealing with your struggles alone. Reach out to family, friends or colleagues to talk about what you’re going through.

Have you considered joining a support group? This gives you a safe space to open up about how the season is affecting you and talk to others who may be dealing with something similar.

As hard as it may be, remaining open about your mental health can be beneficial and might enable you to receive helpful advice or inspiration.

What other treatment options are available?

While these techniques are meant to help lift your mood, don’t hesitate to get a little expert help from mental health professionals. You don’t have to struggle alone and there are other options to consider for treatment. The four different types of treatment typically include any, or a combination of the following:

  • Medication: SAD is associated with disturbances in serotonin activity, so selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be prescribed to help treat symptoms and enhance your mood. Commonly used SSRIs include fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, paroxetine and escitalopram—and because all medications can have side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks while using these medications.
  • Light therapy: to make up for the lack of natural sunlight during the winter months, this treatment exposes you to bright, artificial light every day for about 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Psychotherapy: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of “talk therapy” that can help people deal with difficult situations by replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones. It can also help someone identify and schedule activities to fight the loss of interest experienced during the winter through a process called behavioral activation.
  • Vitamin D: because many who experience SAD often have a vitamin D deficiency, vitamin D supplementation may help relieve symptoms.

Since the timing of seasonal affective disorder is fairly predictable, looking into these techniques and treatments before we get deep into winter can prove to be beneficial—especially if you have a history of dealing with SAD.

Remember the importance of self-care—and in an industry that calls for you to be there for your clients, you’ll need to make sure you’re caring for yourself, too.



Richie Almeida, Integrated Marketing Specialist

Richie is an avid movie goer with an addiction to Sour Patch Kids. If he isn’t at the movies, he is at the gym or on a hike trying to make up for his bad eating habits.

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