Don’t be SAD this winter; ways to diminsh seasonal depression

Dec 8, 2023, 3:00 PM

How to deal with seasonal depression...

Shorter days and less sunlight cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, for many people throughout the winter. (Canva)


SALT LAKE CITY — Shorter days and less sunlight cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, for many people throughout the winter.

SAD is a form of depression that people feel through the late fall and winter months when days are shorter and there is less light. Common symptoms can include an increase in sadness, craving for carbohydrates, anxiety and low energy.

This form of depression can be caused by several biological, social and psychological factors. However, a main factor is that the winter months throw off people’s circadian rhythms.

“The circadian rhythm is the part of our brain that helps control our wake and sleep periods,” explained Dr. Johnathan Birnkrant, a psychiatrist and pediatrician at U of U Health. “Circadian rhythm is something that we get from light. So, as the days get shorter, our circadian rhythms change.”

This change affects cortisol levels and serotonin levels in the body, which are depression and stress hormones.

“People with Seasonal Affective Disorder, their circadian rhythm is off. And they have some pretty significant effects to this,” said Dr. Birnkrant.

Some of the most prominent side effects include major depression, craving carbohydrates, lack of energy and extreme difficulty waking up. For some, it feels like jet lag that never resets.

However, there are ways to help reset one’s circadian rhythm.

How to reduce symptoms of seasonal depression

“Get outside for 20 minutes a day, 30 minutes a day, in the morning without glass in front of you, and walk,” said. Dr. Binkrant.

Being outside in the light each morning helps one’s body adjust its internal clock, further decreasing seasonal depression symptoms.

“When you reset that circadian rhythm, the abnormalities and serotonin and cortisol start to adjust so that you don’t feel the negative affects of abnormal release of those hormones,” he said. “Just 20 minutes a day. A simple walk … in the morning before noon, preferably when you first wake up. That is one of the most affective tools we have. And, frankly, it’s the least expensive.”

Other suggestions from Dr. Birnkrant include

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating healthy
  • Medication
  • Consuming more protein and less carbohydrates (Eating more carbohydrates makes symptoms worse)
  • Taking melatonin supplements at night to help improve quality of sleep
  • Artificial light therapy (Using a light box with 10,000 lux or greater, 15-35 inches, 20-30 minutes in the morning, must be full spectrum)

If artificial light therapy is done later in the day, it can negatively interfere with sleep and make SAD symptoms worse.

Dr. Birnkrant warns that there are many falsely advertised light boxes, and the ones that really work are fairly expensive.

“But, we have alternatives to that,” he said. “Going out in the daytime, taking 10-20 minutes, satisfying the exercise, satisfying the endorphins, satisfying the light adjustments we need to make, doing it in the morning. These are all things you can do.”

SAD statistics

10 million Americans are estimated to feel seasonal affective disorder over the winter months. Another 10 – 20% may have mild SAD.

four out of five people with seasonal depression are women.

Those who have higher risk for seasonal affective disorder include young adults, those with mood disorders, those who live in high latitude areas, people who live a sedentary lifestyle and those who have a family history of SAD.

Dr. Birnkrant says if there is someone you know experiencing SAD symptoms, “It’s very important to give them some hope. A lot of people don’t even realize that they’re experiencing something.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Mental Health

Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, speaks about HB261 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 19,...

Aimee Cobabe

Lawmaker wants to increase maximum amount of time for involuntary civil commitments

Utah lawmakers are supporting a bill to increase the maximum amount of time for involuntary civil commitments.

8 days ago

woman with a therapeutic device on her head to treat depression...


A brain pacemaker helped a woman with crippling depression. It may soon be available to more people

Researchers say deep brain stimulation, or DBS — could eventually help many of the nearly 3 million Americans with treatment-resistance depression.

8 days ago

Mothers and mental health...

Mira Cheng, CNN

Maternal mental health conditions drive climbing death rate in US, research says

The maternal mortality rate in the US is two- to threefold greater than in other high-income countries and increasing.

8 days ago

Students walk to their buses after school at Rose Springs Elementary in Erda, Tooele County, on Thu...

Britt Johnson

Schools in Utah to get Kindness eWalls

Kindness eWalls display positive messages submitted by a school's students, teachers and parents.

9 days ago

Sour gummy worms colored in red, green, yellow, and blue...

Mariah Maynes

Can sour candy ease anxiety and panic attacks?

Experts say a TikTok trend where people suck on sour candy to ease anxiety or panic attacks, can work.  

10 days ago

Neuro-inclusive housing...

Devin Oldroyd

Neuro-inclusive housing: helping autistic adults find their independence

Over 50,000 people with autism enter adulthood every year. What resources when it comes to neuro-inclusive housing, does Utah offer to them?

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

overhead view of a few aisles in a department store...

Big Deal Outlet

There is a Big Deal coming to Midvale: Local discount chain opens 8th store

If you love the thrill of finding good deals, check out the grand opening of Big Deal Outlet in Midvale from February 29 - March 2.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Don’t be SAD this winter; ways to diminsh seasonal depression