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It's Dark and I Feel Sad: What You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you feel pressure from friends or family to delight in the fall season? From the fall colours to the pumpkin flavoured treats, and your favourite cozy sweater, we can seem to forget this time of year is quite difficult for many people.

With the fall season winding down and a decrease in temperatures and daylight if you find yourself struggling with a decreased mood know you are not alone. Not only is this yearly transition tough within itself, being in the midst of a global pandemic doesn’t help. Especially if you typically rely on meeting with friends or going out to social events to keep you energized during this time of year.

More than ever, it is important for you to take a moment to honestly self-reflect on your emotional state as we head into the change in season. Ask yourself: What changes am I seeing within my thoughts, emotions, or behaviours?

If you find your shifting into a state where motivation is lacking and joy seems a bit harder to grasp, you may be going through a very common experience called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is quite similar to depression. Typically, SAD occurs within people during times of the year where there is less sunlight (such as fall moving into winter). In South Western Ontario, this usually starts to occur in early November. Researchers suggest the lack of sunlight disrupts chemical production in the brain which in turn greatly impacts peoples’ moods. The changes in sunlight have also been known to interrupt sleep cycles – also impacting peoples’ moods.

SAD Symptoms

  • Consistent decrease in mood (over 2 weeks and lasts most of the day)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities that are typically enjoyable
  • Lack of energy
  • Withdrawal from support
  • Feelings of agitation, irritability, and tiredness
  • Difficulty focusing and/or making decisions
  • Change in appetite, weight gain or loss
  • Thoughts of suicide

Who is most at risk for SAD?

  • Women (3 out of 4 individuals who experience SAD are women)
  • Young adults ages 18-30
  • Individuals with depression or SAD in their family

This list isn’t to help you self-diagnose, rather bring awareness to your experiences so you can take the appropriate actions to feel better.

How Do I Feel Better?

Here are some tips to help elevate your mood and feel more like yourself again.

Light Exposure 

  • Purchase an artificial light that mimics natural light
  • Spend as much time outdoors as possible
  • Increase natural light in your home by opening blinds and shades


  • Exercise 30-60 minutes daily to release endorphins (the happy hormone!)

Social Support

  • Reach out to people who bring you joy
  • Have intentional conversations with friends and family
  • Follow positive social media accounts (like @OnYourMindCounselling)

Fun Activities

  • Work with your hands (cook, do crafts, etc.) to feel productive and accomplished
  • Enjoy some hot chocolate while cozying up by the fire
  • Ski, skate, toboggan, snowmobile
  • Decorate your home 
  • Bake seasonal treats 
  • Embrace holiday traditions 

Nourish Your Body

  • Eat healthy foods to feel more energized and clean. Heavy foods containing simple carbohydrates and high sugar will leave you feeling more drained.

Manage Work Stress 

  • Take small breaks every 25 minutes  
  • Prioritize tasks that need to get done (to make room for self-care)
  • Create a schedule that’s easy to follow

Resources for Further SAD Support

For when you know you need extra support.

Contact your Doctor 

There are medications available to help balance the chemical production in your brain (SSRIs).

Talk Therapy (Counselling)

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been found to greatly improve symptoms of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Counselling AND Medication

Combining the two methods is a comprehensive approach to sustainable care for your symptoms.

If you feel down heading into the winter season, please remember you are not alone! This is an extremely common experience and there are many ways to support yourself and receive support from others. At On Your Mind Counselling, we are here to provide therapeutic care as well as connect you to any further resources so you can be well.

Take care of yourself! And learn more about On Your Mind Counselling at OnYourMindCounselling.com.

Written by Tori Mudie, BA, MA, RP, CCC

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