How I Dealt with SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you reside on planet Earth, you are aware of the storms and wild weather that have affected the U.S. and beyond. California has made the news, not for its famous 5-year drought, but for the record rain and mountain snowfall the entire state has experienced all winter.

The rain and foul weather is a blessing…and a curse. A blessing because the state desperately needs the rain and snow-pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A curse because… 1. It’s too much water too fast (see link on Oroville Dam); 2. Gloom, rain, clouds and lack of sunlight affect many people and may lead to a form of depression in a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short.

Winter rain pours from the sky on a dismal gray day
This much rain poured from the sky and from my roof recently!

The Mayo Clinic website suggests “The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. A drop or change in both serotonin and melatonin (neurotransmitters) levels can bring on seasonal depression.”

Fellow blogger, Sally Cronin, writes extensively about Seasonal Affective Disorder in her blog, Smorgasbord: Variety is the Spice of Life.

This insidious condition does not affect everyone. You would think that by my living in “sunny” California, SAD would not be an issue. I’m here to tell you, um, yes, it’s an issue.

Since 2011, our winters have been mild. We’ve seen much more sun January through March—our typical rainy season. Sure, we had a decent amount of rain in November and December in those years, enough to keep the Sierra ski resorts open for business. In 2011, we even had record snowfall that kept snow in the Sierras well into June. After that? Nada! No wonder I have not experienced the “winter blues” in a while!

What is SAD? Here are some symptoms:

  • Lack of energy—feeling overwhelmed and helpless. These are confusing and horrible feelings for a rather positive person like myself.
  • Feeling guilty or worried—heightened anxiety. I found myself frowning and unconsciously grinding my teeth. Why??
  • Weakened immune system. I got two severe colds in December and January. I am rarely sick, so getting two colds within a two-month time-frame now makes sense.
  • Experiencing sleep disturbances, lack of sleep or the ability to socialize. This did not affect me that much, thank goodness, or you might be visiting me in the hospital!
  • Irritability—Having a lower threshold of crankiness and impatience. Oooh, no wonder I’ve snapped at my poor hubby lately.
  • Overeating and weight gain (or craving carbs and sugar more than usual). After a year of successfully using Weight Watchers to lose 30 pounds, I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t gain any weight at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but started craving carbs and sugar in mid-January and gained two pounds. What was different? It also didn’t help that we celebrated a few family birthdays in January.

“Many (may also) attribute these symptoms to the lack of vitamin D in the winter. To help battle these symptoms, it is advised to get as much natural sunlight as possible; which may mean heading outdoors in and around the lunch hour, or during a bright winter day. Even on the coldest of days, if the sun is out, bundling up, and heading outside for a least an hour, can improve SAD symptoms significantly.” 10 Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It would be unwise of me to live in the far northern hemisphere without access to a sunlamp.

All of this explains my feelings of being disorganized, always overwhelmed, and unable to multi-task (my super-power). It also explains lately why I am slow to read blogs, comment and share on social media. The low energy just makes it difficult to engage. So, I apologize now for my sluggishness, and soon I will be back to my bubbly self and to your blogs!

I now have a new appreciation for the depression and anxiety my daughter went through in the last few years. She told me, “people would ask, what do you have to be depressed about? That made me even more depressed and anxious.” For her, graduating from college and landing her first job with the State of California pulled her out of her anxiety.

How did I beat SAD, or the “Winter Blues?”

Spring brings clouds of blossoms
Spring brings clouds of blossoms

1. First, simply recognizing the symptoms. I had all but forgotten them because of the (abnormal) winter sunlight. Even reading about the symptoms, it still did not occur to me that I was currently suffering.
2. Talking it over with family members went a long way toward acknowledging my problem. For many, depression is difficult to discuss and carries a social stigma.
3. Getting on with my life and not letting anxiety and blue moods get the best of me. Now I have a better understanding of my youngest daughter’s anxiety in the last few years and what she went through. It is easier than you might think to get caught up in these moods,  leading to Number 4.
4. Not giving up or giving in to defeat, or making rash decisions about life events and hobbies that can’t be undone. It was literally on the precipice of giving up writing and blogging altogether, thinking “I have nothing left to share.”
5. Recognizing that the blues and doldrums will affect me occasionally and strive to pay better attention to those cues.
6. Opening the blinds and letting more light into the rooms. Yes, that means I will see dust and know that “spring cleaning” is imminent. But that’s OK.
7. Just getting outside and letting a little sunshine wash over me. March is here and with it, stronger, longer sunny days. The sun arcs a little higher in the sky each day.
8. Pulling favorite spring clothing items out of my closet and gazing upon their bright colors (“oh, hello, pretty pink shirt—I can’t wait to wear you”).
9. Investing time in small indulgences like buying a new, brighter lip gloss or new make-up always makes me feel better. And it is definitely time for a pedicure!
10. Keeping within the structure of my fitness and weight loss routine. Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods are critical to normal functions.

“Since I started writing this post, we have had four days of wonderful sunshine! I can already feel the difference!”

What should I do for future gray days?

  • Mark a big SAD on my calendar in mid-November as a reminder. The frenetic pace of preparing for the holidays may mask the symptoms. It did in my case, leaving me hollow and empty right after New Year’s.
  • Plan a sunny winter trip. Next January, I hope to spend three weeks in San Diego and Baja, Mexico. Those three weeks I spent last January 2016 in the warm sun, were just enough to stave off that year’s SAD symptoms. I better start saving for an annual January trip! I’m thinking Baja and Hawaii in alternating years!

I do not want to make light of this potentially serious situation. Depression in any form is dangerous and, if undiagnosed, can eventually lead to health problems, feelings of suicide and death. If you are experiencing the “winter blues” and the feelings are not diminishing with the coming spring and sunlight, I urge you to see your doctor right away.

I am also linking this post to Colleen Chesebro’s blog, A Mindful Journey

My haiku and image to celebrate the end of SAD!
My Haiku: Spring blossoms flutter, whisking away winter blues, hope springs eternal.

Have you experienced the “winter blues?” Please feel free to share in the comments what helped you lift your mood.


48 thoughts on “Ten Ways I Beat the Winter Blues

  1. California has had quite a few crappy days for being California. But then, I think about our last winter in New England and feel that we were and are so much better off now. Whenever it is a sunny day, we add a long walk with a dog to our busy schedule. I love blue skies and I can’t resist them. When it is nice out, I have to go out. When it is not, I am happy about the extra time I can work on projects, without feeling bad and guilty about missing out on the nice weather. 🙂


  2. Hi, Terri – Thank you for shedding light on this condition (that often goes unrecognized). I believe that your strategies for dealing with this would be beneficial for anyone dealing with the ‘winter blues’. Last week, I brought my spring/summer clothes up from their hibernation spot in the basement. That move alone put a spring smile on my face!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Donna! Isn’t it funny what those little things can do? But they depression can really mess with even those small things, leading to that feeling of overwhelm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a few more days of sunshine (rain is expected by the weekend).


  3. A few years back, I made it a point to get outside, in all kinds of weather in the winter. I also started taking supplements of Vitamin D. Those 2 things made all the difference in the world for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know our personal trainer used to have one of those lights that he’d use in the mornings! He said it was a life saver!
    I guess the other option for dealing with this could be to move to a sunny place? ha ha. Of course, I don’t even know where you live, Terri??

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I don’t suffer from SAD, but I have struggled with depression, and as you say, it’s nothing to take lightly.

    Talking about it can help me at times, but what helps me the most is making sure I can point to something I did that day, even if it’s only something like cleaning out a closet. Seeing that I can still be productive, even if it’s at a lower level, somehow provides proof of my worth. I’ve heard it called “creating evidence,” proving to yourself every day that your existence matters.

    Don’t know if it will help anyone else, but I’ll toss it out there in case it does. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great information Terri! Although we certainly have had our share of rain this winter in SoCal, we have been fortunate to have a few sunny days in between (big rain on Monday, but it’s absolutely gorgeous today). But, it’s certainly good to be aware of how just a few gloomy days in a row can affect our disposition and the way we interact with others. I think planning trips to sunny climates is the perfect cure!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love that photo and poem! I always crave flowers this time of year, and since I can’t pick any from my garden, I splurge on a few pretty flowers to brighten up the living room. It is one little thing that helps me get through. I also take vitamin D and I do think it helps. We are starting to see longer daylight, which also helps a lot. Today is very sunny and it is quickly melting the five or six inches of snow we got yesterday. I am feeling hopeful for spring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michele! We are surrounded by trees and blossoms are popping out every where–a couple of weeks late this year. I have lots of silk flowers I use to decorate, since I tend to have a silk thumb rather than a green thumb.


  8. I begin to drag my butt around about this time of year. I’ve been living in the basement level of my house for a bunch of years while my daughter and her young family live upstairs. I have not experience SAD during these dark winter month. Thank goodness. Can’t wait for brighter days and spring flowers, though.
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Winter here in southeastern Washington was exceptionally long, cold and rough. Livestock needing care at daybreak and dusk forced me to realize the importance of one particular fact you mention, Terri. Bundle up and get out side. Not only does the fresh air help (however cold), but indoors feels so much warmer after being out in the weather!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Two natural mood lifters are sunshine and being near a surf beach. Rolling waves give off ions that lift your feeling of wellbeing.
    We don’t have your extreme long cold times here, but we are having an extended hot spell that does not seem like it will end. Some people have emotional responses that is referred to as ‘going troppo’ the high temperature and high humidity can lead to distress, irritability, and even aggression. I guess this is the reverse of what you experience.
    Glad to hear you are making it through and winning.
    Blogger’s Pit Stop

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fantastic post offering great suggestions for this SAD thing which gives many the blues. I loved the haiku too Terri. And oh ya, just thought I’d mention that this is my 2nd year spending part of the winter in Scottsdale, AZ and we’ve had California’s crap blow over here too, lol. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Terri, fortunately in Brisbane, we have sunshine most of the year round. However, when I’ve visited Europe during winter when the days are grey and much shorter I can certainly understand people having the blues. You have mentioned 10 good tips here and keeping your exercise and fitness going is certainly hard when it is cold outside. I like the idea of looking at your spring wardrobe to cheer yourself up and know that it will soon be on the way Thanks for being part of the #MLSTL community and sharing some great advice with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Terri I was so interested to see your blog on this topic today. Coincidentally, last night I wrote a post about my experiences, which is along similar lines. When it’s published, I will link to your post. #will share on SM #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love all these Terri – and they’re very timely for me – my GP has just told me that my Vit D levels are a bit low – so I need a bit more sunshine (hard to get when I’m all rugged up when I go for my daily walk!) It’s nice to think that when the sun shines again, I can start topping up and feeling brighter.
    #MLSTL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Leanne, you are probably climbing out of your winter…that’s when it hit me was in late January here after two months of clouds and little sun. I’ve read that Vit D is hard to get from sunlight unless you live at the equator and don’t wear sunscreen. I should probably start taking a supplement myself!


  15. Hi Terri, I totally understand what you’re getting at here and well done on highlighting the issues. Having just returned from UK and Europe where heat wave conditions reigned, I am now back in the depths of winter at home and it’s hard to get my head around it. I’m feeling lots of emotions on top of the dreaded jetlag, luckily spring and summer aren’t far away. I feel for you and hope things improve, your strategies are great. #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I always start getting down mid-January and it will continue into March or April. Here in Columbus Oh are winter seems to go right into spring and it sucks. Now we go to Fl for the winter but last year there wasn’t a lot of sun even in Fl. lol

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I think I mildly suffer from SAD. I do notice that when we have more than three cloudy/gloomy days in a row, I feel uneasy in my spirit which results in reduced energy level. I do try to take advantage of nice days when they finally emerge – and I include sunshine as an entry in my gratitude journal 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It’s interesting to read this post at the end of summer. Hard to remember what it feels like to be deep in the winter blahs. But I know it’s coming, so it’s nice to have this advice in advance. I plan to flag it and return again at least once before winter starts. Thanks for sharing the wisdom of experience. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

What is YOUR perspective?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.