connect, grow & thrive.

SAD: The Season Related Depression

It is that time of the year again, when some of us are beginning to feel down due to the weather changes brought on by the shift in seasons. The summer light with all its splendours and effects, is long gone, and the days keep getting shorter and darker. This change of the seasons may also make us ponder the passage of time and saying goodbye to something dear to the heart. However, this change is also part of the cycle of growth, even the trees and flowers go dormant for a reason. Releasing the past and welcoming something new is inevitable, and right now this new winter season opens the opportunity for renewal and rest for us.

What is SAD?

As nature changes, so does our mental state. A mental health condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal or winter depression, is characterized by severe and overpowering emotions of melancholy that can impair day-to-day functioning. SAD is a type of depression that is triggered by the change of seasons, and it has a cyclical pattern, it begins and ends at about the same time every year. For some people symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, but SAD can also occur in other seasons of the year. SAD stays true to its name; it does leave those affected by it feeling very sad

Symptoms of SAD

SAD symptoms include fatigue, hopelessness, social withdrawal, loss of interest, low mood, and tearfulness and overwhelming sadness which are interfering with daily functioning. It is recommended to seek professional help when experiencing such overpowering emotions of sadness. 

SAD vs Winter Blues

SAD and winter blues are not the same thing. SAD is more than the winter blues. Winter blues is a mental state comprised of feelings of sadness and fatigue during the coldest and darkest months of the year. Although one might feel unhappy when experiencing winter blues, those feelings do not affect your ability to enjoy life. If winter blues start permeating all aspects of your life you may be experiencing SAD.

How does this all feel in the body?

Next to the shift in mental states, our bodies need time to adjust to the seasonal changes as well. As darkness grows, the human body starts producing more melatonin, a hormone responsible for making us more sleepy and less energized. Due to the decrease of light, levels of serotonin – the mood regulating hormone – also drop, which can lead to depression. 

Helping ourselves

Getting outside during the daylight and seeking out the sun, even a cloudy day can provide some light the body is craving. Grounding ourselves by eating the right kind of food, preferably seasonal food is important: some sweet chestnut, a spicy and warm pumpkin soup, and a variety of teas for instance are good fits for this season. Regular physical activity ideally outdoors supports both mental and physical wellbeing. Reaching out to friends and family and staying connected are equally significant in helping ourselves. Although it is common to withdraw when living with SAD, having an honest conversation with a professional can be very beneficial to feel understood and not so alone.

Experiencing SAD in Switzerland?

One of the best ways to increase exposure to natural sunlight during this season is to go up to the mountains, boosting vitamin D and serotonin levels in the body for around 20 minutes daily. It can be foggy around the lakes below 600 meters but going higher above it is clear sunshine and scenic walks with many sunny benches inviting us to make a stop or even to have a picnic. 

Written by Katalin Szentgyörgyi, Trainee in Counselling

There are many resources to help you should you be feeling the effects of SAD. Check out our Mental Health Initiative or call the Heart2Heart service. This service is in English and available for free all over the country.

Charlie Hartmann is the managing director of the Livingin organisation which focuses on helping international residents connect, grow and thrive in Switzerland.