Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Manage

Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Emily Erickson, MD & Greg Bates, NP

Winter is upon us, where the days are shorter and the temperatures are lower. It can be an exciting time for those who enjoy the holiday season and outdoor winter activities. For others, this time of year can be difficult due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - a condition that often goes unnoticed and undetected.

Seasonal Affective Disorder consists of a subset of disorders that are caused by mood and biochemical disturbances that occur within a seasonal pattern. The most common form is Seasonal Depression. SAD can affect up to 5% of the population, but it can be as high as 10% in northern latitudes. In northern regions with extended winter conditions and less sunlight, patients with SAD can have symptoms up to 40% of the year, greatly impacting their quality of life.

Symptoms of SAD can mirror typical symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating

Specifically, with SAD most people can trace a pattern to the changing of seasons. For example, symptoms tend to arise in fall and winter and go away in the spring and summer. Others, although less common, experience symptoms in the spring and summer with remission in the colder months.


There are several treatment options for SAD:

  • Light therapy: This is a type of therapy that utilizes lightboxes to promote exposure to light for set periods of time. Light therapy can significantly improve a person’s mood in one to two weeks.
  • Getting exercise regularly
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation
  • Spending more time outdoors during daylight hours
  • Prescription medications
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

With the ongoing pandemic, these symptoms can be heightened due to social isolation. Trying to cope with these ongoing restrictions and staying connected with loved ones can be stressful.

Our team at Northern Light Mercy Primary Care wants you to know that we are here for you during this time.

Bad days come and go but if you find yourself struggling during the changing of seasons, it’s important to seek help. If you or someone you know may be experiencing these symptoms, a primary care provider could help you weigh options tailored to your specific needs.

Emily Erickson, MD and Greg Bates, NP practice at Northern Light Mercy Primary Care in Gorham.