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  • Writer's pictureShana Gietl

Appointment With SAD

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

Welcome.  It is our first snow of the season, a Nor’easter actually.  I’m sitting in my bed, with my flannel sheets, flannel duvet, and mug of hot cocoa topped with marshmallows that have a strange Lucky Charms like resemblance to them.  Winter is creeping up on us, okay, who am I kidding, it’s RIGHT here.  The wind is assaulting my house while I type away, trying to pretend we have a few more months.  Denial is a beautiful defense mechanism, but that’s not what we’re going to talk about tonight.  Maybe it’s the storm, maybe it’s changing my clock back an hour this past weekend, or maybe it’s the dullness I’ve started seeing in the eyes around me that has prompted me to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or more appropriately put, SAD (AKA the winter blues).


SAD is a form of depression that claims homage in the bodies of many during the fall and winter months, especially for those of us on the East Coast, where the winter months are long and arduous.  The symptoms cloak those of depression:

  • irritability

  • withdrawal

  • change in appetite and sleep cycle

  • hopelessness

  • decreased energy

  • fatigue

  • loss of interest

  • poor concentration

  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • low tolerance to stress

How is SAD different from depression?

SAD starts and ends with the change of the seasons, whereas depression doesn’t plan its way into our lives with an appointment in hand, but enters when it pleases.


Why do I get SAD?

I think there’s an interesting cultural phenomenon, a biological component, and a basic shortage of hours that comes into play when explaining the winter blues.  For some, the fall and winter are an exciting time, it’s a gathering of family and friends, it’s a celebration of everything to be thankful for, it’s Christmas music on the radio, and the mark of a new year, but for others, it can fall short of the Hallmark moment and be very overwhelming.

Already the isles of the grocery stores have Santa faces, snow angels, and candy canes, email inboxes are full of ads for Christmas shopping, and the surmounting pressure to buy is all around.  Consumerism can be its own dark shadow, contributing its own fair share to the symptoms listed above.  Also, all the planning, cooking, shopping, wrapping, traveling, decorating, and the reunion of families may not be on everyone’s top 10 list of things to do and can lead to feelings of dread, stress, overload, reluctance, and resentment.

Biologically speaking, in the winter months (the time of year when we get the least amount of sunlight), we get an overload of melatonin in our system.  Melatonin is a hormone that is released in our blood stream when it’s dark, so if we’re in a season where it’s more dark, we get more melatonin.  This hormone plays a key role in our sleep, as it lowers our body temperatures and eases us into a sleep state.   From an evolutionary standpoint this makes a lot of sense as our vision is poor in the dark, not making it an opportune time to be doing our hunting and gathering when we may fall victim to our predators, it’s instead a time when we should be resting and restoring our energy.


If we’re getting more melatonin in our systems and melatonin prepares us for sleep, we can expect to feel less energized and more fatigued this time of year.   And what happens when you feel drained of energy and sleepy?  You feel less interested, your concentration is impacted, your ability to regulate emotions is thrown off, etc.  In other words, you start to look like the symptoms up above.


We are solar-powered beings.  Our energy source comes from the light. Light brings warmth, Vitamin D, and energy.  It makes us feel happy!  Functional!  Capable!  Motivated!

How do I survive SAD?

  • Don’t make an appointment with SAD.  Understand how the seasons impact your mood and be prepared beforehand.

  • Expose yourself to as much natural light as possible, artificial lights work fine on those grey days.

  • Keep yourself active physically and mentally before SAD makes its scheduled appearance.

  • Find a cool Groupon for a yoga class, a kickboxing class, a spin class, etc.

  • Give to your community by volunteering and feel good about yourself.  Check out Serve Rhode Island for volunteer opportunities.

  • Sign up for a cooking class, art class, acting class, etc. through community programs such as the Learning Connection.

  • Find others who share your hobby and get together through Meetup.

  • Change how you think about winter, learn to anticipate it by pointing out the positives – you can drink hot cocoa with Lucky Charms marshmallows and wrap yourself up in flannel like me, or you can plan great movie nights, play in the leaves, go sledding, spend more time with your favorite book, etc.

  • Consider light therapy, these are broad spectrum bright lights that expose you to light in the convenience of your own home.

  • Consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist to work through issues and build individualized coping strategies together.



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