Avoiding the Winter Blues

Have you ever noticed that as the season shifts your mood seems to shift with it?! 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression / mood concern that comes and goes with the seasons. Typically, in BC, we see it starting in the fall as the days start to be darker and the amount of sunlight decreases. Many see an improvement occurring in the spring and summer. Some reported symptoms include having low energy, social withdrawal, over eating, craving carbohydrates, and a general decrease in mood. However, some of these symptoms may occur as a result of physical disorders including hypothyroidism, blood sugar issues, and viral infection. It is important to consult with your physician to ensure your symptoms are not related to another condition. 

Though we don’t know what exactly causes SAD, we do know that it is more common in areas farther from the equator and that it has been linked to shorter daylight hours and decreased sunlight. There have been many suggested treatments for SAD, but there are only a few that have promising evidence behind them.

Movement & Exercise

It is well known that exercise and movement is beneficial in the treatment and prevention of mental health. The World Health Organization recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Exercise helps boost neurotransmitters that improve and stabilize our mood. Even movement as simple as daily walking has been shown to improve mood. 

Light therapy

In recent years, some alternative therapies have become quite popular to help support those suffering, with light therapy becoming a standard treatment. With light therapy, individual sized lamps that filter out the UV light are used to help replace decreased sun exposure. Ideally, for the treatment and prevention of SAD, the light would provide 10,000 lux (the lux being the unit of measurement for light). Often 20-60 minutes a day is recommended depending on the size and strength of the light box as well as your symptoms. If using light therapy, it is best to use it in the morning to help mimic the bodies regular circadian rhythm (though the recommendation does change for those suffering from bipolar depression, so it is best to always consult your healthcare provider). 

Vitamin D

Though there has been limited direct correlation between improvement in SAD symptoms and vitamin D supplementation, low blood levels can often be found in those suffering from SAD. Given this, there is reason to suggest ensuring adequate vitamin D levels to support prevention of SAD and its symptoms. As we continue to investigate and learn more about Vitamin D, we are discovering its potential implication in many chronic diseases. It is important to test Vitamin D blood levels prior to supplementation to ensure a safe and correct dose is used. Since Vitamin D is fat soluble it is possible to overdose. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

There has been significant evidence showing the benefits of CBT for SAD, with some studies reporting improvement in as little as two weeks. Through behavioral activation, CBT works to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones. It can help supply tools to improve with coping with winter. 


Much of the research suggests that combining treatments for those suffering from SAD results in better outcomes. If the symptoms are severe enough, some healthcare providers may consider prescribing an anti-depressant medication or supplement. A careful examination of your symptoms will provide insight into how best to beat those winter blues. 


By Dr. Brittany Schamerhorn, ND
Balance Medical Center