Laura Freberg

The sky is gray. The snow is gray. We’re stuck inside for days at a time. Even here in sunny California, I sometimes get the feeling winter will never end. Winter can be a tough time for anyone to feel cheerful, but nearly 10 million Americans experience an unusually severe reaction to winter known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

SAD is a type of depression that shows up and then disappears on a regular schedule each year. Although it’s possible to have a summer version of SAD, most cases occur during the fall and winter. SAD is probably a glitch in our evolutionary patterns of responding to changes in light from season to season. It’s much more common in stormy than sunny places; there are about 10 times as many cases of SAD in New Hampshire as there are in Florida.

The Symptoms of SAD

How do you know if you have SAD or not? Common symptoms include:

- Feeling unusually depressed or irritable

- Problems oversleeping

- Weight gain

- Carbohydrate cravings

- Drinking too much alcohol

- Feeling socially disconnected

Unlike other types of depression, symptoms of SAD clear up as the days get longer.

If you think you might have SAD, your best bet is to check with your health care provider, who can confirm your diagnosis and discuss treatment options to beat the winter blues. These might include:

Light therapy

You’ll use a special light at certain times of the day to reset your natural biorhythms.


Some people find this over-the-counter supplement helpful as an alternative medicine treatment for SAD.

Traditional treatment

In some cases, more traditional treatment, including antidepressant medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, might be needed.

Whatever treatment you choose, don’t overlook the benefits of exercise. Just 30 minutes a day of moving around --especially a walk in the fresh air -- can help alleviate SAD and make the whole world look much brighter.


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Health - Dreary Days Got You Down? Beat the Winter Blues