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


Michelle Lee

The impact of spring colors on mental health

Let’s Get Moving Host Maria Shilaos spoke with Dr. Sally Augustin to learn how we can use spring colors to improve our mental health.

2 days ago

Therapist talks about mental health for athletes in the olympics...

Allessandra Harris

Sports psychologist explains an Olympic athlete’s feelings of grief

It is common for Olympic athletes to experience feelings of grief when competing or after the events have ended.

4 days ago

Salt Lake Deputy Police Chief Josh Scharman conducts the grand opening of the Community Connections...

Eric Cabrera

Social workers with Salt Lake Police Department are responding to more callers than ever

The Community Connection Center social workers who work with the Salt Lake Police Department are getting an increase in mental health-related calls, as a result they have grown their team to able to respond to more.

5 days ago

the us house of representatives shown at the capitol, the house passed a bill about sodium nitrite...

Allessandra Harris Gurr

House passes bill to ban a compound used in suicides

Legislation backed by Rep. Celeste Maloy would ban the consumer sale of sodium nitrite, a product becoming increasingly common in suicides.

5 days ago

A photo taken of Matthew Perry in 2022....

Clayre Scott

Criminal investigation opened in relation to Matthew Perry’s death

A criminal investigation has been opened in relation to Matthew Perry's death due to high levels of ketamine found in his blood.

6 days ago

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, sit together du...

Curt Gresseth

Healthy marriages good for Utah taxpayers, says governor’s adviser

An adviser to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says state government is invested in and promotes the importance of strong, healthy marriages and families.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

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.

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