Can winter make me sad ?

With Melbourne being one of the coldest cities in Australia, it is no surprise that some of us may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a form of depression that is related to changes in daylight hours, lasting around 4 months of the year. SAD affects many of us, both in winter (winter-patterned SAD) and summer (summer-patterned SAD) but is more commonly reported in winter.

If you have SAD, you will feel persistently sad, restless, irritable, anxious or “empty” most of the day, nearly every day, will oversleep and may overeat. Unlike depression, it will kick in with changes in daylight hours.

Why me?
-A difference in the timing of your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal 24-hour “clock” that responds to the rhythmic light-dark changes that occur daily and throughout the seasons. The altered circadian rhythm is due to people with SAD having a combination of less serotonin (a neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood) and too much melatonin (a hormone produced by the pineal gland that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness). As winter days become darker, melatonin production increases and, in response, those with SAD feel sleepy and lacking in energy.

-Low vitamin D levels – some research has found that people with SAD and S-SAD have insufficient or deficient levels of Vitamin D (a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in regulating mood). Low Vitamin D can result from poor dietary intake or lifestyle issues such as little outdoor exposure to sunshine.

Tips to overcome being SAD

It’s important to check in with a psychologist to discuss your experiences and gain useful strategies to help you overcome SAD. You may also discuss the potential to take anti-depressant medication with your GP.

Light therapy
Sitting in front of a lightbox for 20-60 minutes first thing in the morning daily from the start of Autumn until Spring may be helpful to boost your mood. Research suggests the lightbox should emit full spectrum light similar to sunlight (research suggests exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white, fluorescent light) and filter out ultraviolet rays. This approach is very common in Scandinavian countries.

Vitamin D
Try taking vitamin D tablets. Research investigating this association suggests that taking 100,000 IU daily may improve their symptom.In combination, these strategies may be helpful. Ultimately, the most important thing is recognising that your symptoms are real, that you are not alone in your struggles and that help is available for you.


By Tess Collins, Organisational Psychologist