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When It's More Than Just the Winter Blues: A Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fall has always been a weird thing for me. I love the crunchy leaves, a night around a fire, and boots & sweater outfits. But as aesthetically pleasing as fall can be, it's always been accompanied by my familiar friend Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Since I was in middle school, the darkening of the days has been a thorn in my side. Laughing becomes forced and goals go down the drain. It's the worst because it's not me; I'm a shell of myself. Yet it's something I face year after year.

Today, let's talk about what SAD is, how to recognize its symptoms, and ways to make it through the gloomy days.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of the year, most often in the fall and winter. Some people, however, experience it in the summer. It's more than the "winter blues" and can greatly impact mood and daily routine. Four times more women than men are impacted by SAD, and it's onset is usually between 18-30.

Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Persistent low mood

  • Lack of interest in activities

  • Fatigue and low energy

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Cravings for carbohydrates

  • Weight gain

Causes and Triggers

Biological Factors

  • Lack of sunlight: Reduced exposure to sunlight can affect serotonin levels, which plays a major role in mood regulation.

  • Melatonin imbalance: The change in seasons can disrupt our internal clock, affecting our sleep patterns and mood.

  • Genetics: Some people (myself included) are genetically predispositioned. If a close relative has SAD, you have a higher risk than the general population of developing it.

Psychological Factors

  • High stress levels: For 20-somethings juggling work, relationships, and self-discovery, stress can exacerbate symptoms of SAD.

  • Existing mental health conditions: If you already struggle with depression or anxiety, SAD could intensify these feelings.

Tips to Manage SAD

I am far from a medical professional. This is what has helped me. But always consult with your doctor before changing up your medical routine.

Let There Be Light

Light therapy lamps mimic the daylight. I use my throughout the morning and early afternoon.

I have one light that costs around $200 and has lasted me 10 years. It's a great option if you want to spend a bit more. I also have a cheaper light for my office, and it does the job as well.

Stay Active

Don’t let the cold weather keep you from working out. Exercise releases endorphins, which can naturally elevate your mood. In the winters, I sign up for a hot yoga membership because the warm makes me feel better and I need to know I am paying a gym membership to help get me off the couch and active.

Eat Right

Avoid the temptation to binge on carbs and sweets. Opt for a healthy diet full in nutrients to keep your energy levels stable.

Supplement If Needed

My doctor and I worked to find a serotonin supplement that worked for me. I start taking it in late August/early September as a way to naturally boost my mood. It's expensive, but if your doctor agrees this is a good fit for you, buy the bottle.

Social Support

I know how hard it is to go to social events when you're depressed. But social support is one of the greatest ways to get your mood stable during SAD episodes.

Seek Professional Help

If symptoms persist, talking to a therapist is a great way to work through your emotions and find alternative coping mechanisms.


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real issue that often goes undiagnosed. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you manage your mental health during the trying winter months. If you're in your 20s, this is a crucial time to focus on self-care and mental well-being. By understanding what SAD is and how it affects you, you’re already on the path to brighter, happier days ahead.

Your mental health matters; it's okay to ask for help and take steps to improve your well-being. Get those therapy lights out, take a serotonin supplement, and go on a walk with a friend!

It's hard, I know. But the dark months don't last forever.


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