Managing seasonal depression: Tips and resources to help you navigate the season

January 29, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

In Michigan, after the excitement fades of cider and donuts, Halloween and Thanksgiving food, we know that winter is coming. The days are shorter and the night skies are longer. The temperature drops and the snow falls. The long winters and lack of sunshine can contribute to seasonal depression.

Michiganders, does this sound familiar?

Spring/Summer: “I love Michigan summers. We live in such a beautiful state.”

Fall: “The leaves are changing! The colors are breathtaking. Let’s go get cider and donuts!”

Winter: “The first snowfall! It’s so beautiful. Let’s make a snowman!”

After a false spring, second winter, one weekend of 60 degrees and the polar vortex: “This is Michigan.”  

According to the Michigan Medicine Health Library, this timeline is accurate. The symptoms come and go at about the same time each year. 

What is seasonal depression?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, or seasonal depression, is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. You may have SAD if you felt depressed during the last two winters but felt much better in spring and summer.

Anyone can be affected by SAD, but research shows that it’s more common in:

  • Women
  • People who live far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short.
  • People between the ages of 15 and 55. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.
  • People who have a close relative with SAD.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious
  • Lost interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from social interaction
  • Eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.
  • Gaining weight
  • Sleeping more but still feeling tired
  • Having trouble concentrating

What can you do to manage SAD?

There are steps every employee can take to help manage their SAD.

Take a walk: Any activity that raises your heart rate may help you have more energy and calm your mind. Exercise such as walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike are great ways to get your body moving. If there is sunlight outdoors, try talking a walk outside and record if your mood changes.

Phone a friend: In the fall/winter months, most people “hibernate.” Meaning they go to work/school, then back home. The weather can prevent social interactions such as going to the park, taking a walk, hanging out with friends or going out to lunch while at work. Voluntary isolation causes relationship strains, feelings of loneliness and doubt.

If you find yourself in this mindset, try calling a friend or family member to uplift your spirits. Sometimes a phone call can change the entire trajectory of the day.

Understand what you’re going through: Seasonal depression is very common. Experiencing symptoms does not mean a person is weak, unstable or weird. The lack of sunlight can cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin, which can affect moods.

If you or someone you know is expressing unusual behavior, be sure to know the symptoms of seasonal depression and consult with your doctor.

Treatments vary with the most common being light therapy and/or medications. Talk therapy/counseling may also help to better understand the symptoms and how to manage future episodes.

If you or someone you know is dealing with seasonal depression, the organization provides several resources and tools that are completely confidential. It is important to find the resource that aligns with your needs.

Among them are:

Finally, Brian Stork, M.D., a urologist at Michigan Medicine West Shore Urology in Muskegon, recently published an essay on seasonal depression. Check it out by clicking here.

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