Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

As we journey deeper into winter, millions of Americans will experience seasonal depression, formally known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Although many cultures celebrate this with lights and festive gatherings, mental health is often overlooked during this season. For example, Winter Solstice is celebrated in many parts of the world since it is the longest night of the year. Additionally, St. Lucia’s Day or the Festival of the Lights is celebrated in Scandinavian Countries with mulled wine and cider and fun. 

Mayo Clinic reports that many individuals experiencing SAD begin to experience symptoms in the fall and continue throughout the winter months. Although it is most common to experience SAD during the fall and winter months, it is possible to experience this condition during the spring and summer months. It’s important to recognize symptoms and schedule an appointment with your primary doctor, therapist or psychiatry providers. Here are a few symptoms of depression to be mindful of:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Changes in sleep or appetite or unplanned weight changes
  • Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause and do not go away with treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts

For seasonal affective disorder (SAD), additional symptoms can include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates, leading to weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

SAD is more common in people with depression or bipolar disorder, especially bipolar II disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, or panic disorder. Studies indicate that people with SAD, have reduced levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. John Hopkins medicine explains that less light and exposure to sun results in chemical changes in the brain that cause symptoms of depression, which can be addressed through light therapy or antidepressants. 

Here in Southern California, our days are shorter but luckily we have access to lots of sunlight. To promote your mental wellbeing, make sure to include a 15 minute walk in the sun or take a moment to sit outside when the sun is shining. You can also eat more foods high in Vitamin D like salmon, swordfish, orange juice, egg yolks and fortified cereals. Vitamin D is believed to promote serotonin activity. In addition to vitamin D consumed in food, the body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight on the skin.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression, you are not alone. Reach out for help today by calling either 714-716-2900 or 951-888-8033. You can also email us at

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