Shedding Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder During Wintertime

Feb 26, 2024

Worcester, Mass. – February 22, 2024 – Winter is one of the hardest times of the year for many, and feelings of sadness, loss, or isolation are very common. The holidays are over, the days are cold and short, less light for Vitamin D due to more cloudiness, there are fewer nutrient-rich foods around and it’s harder to get exercise than in the nicer months. It’s all a recipe for high anxiety and suffering from a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

“The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it's often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days,” says Maxim Lianski, MD, Interim Chief of Psychiatry with Saint Vincent Hospital. “The proposed mechanisms include altered retinal sensitivity to light, changes in circadian rhythms, low level of vitamin D and imbalance of neurotransmitters (dopamine, melatonin, serotonin). People suffering from SAD can set themselves into a depression, which is the most common ailment especially in those aged 60 and over.”

Dr. Lianski offers some positive steps that may help you feel healthier this winter.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings and let yourself off the hook. It is okay not to feel cheerful all the time.
  2. Reach out. Being alone and lonely are not the same thing but if you are feeling particularly isolated, please seek out your community. Book clubs, senior centers, volunteering, and civic or religious organizations are good places to start. Broaden your friendships.
  3. Do not abandon healthy habits. Be kind to your body and mind by maintaining your self-care practices. Eat well and get plenty of sleep.
  4. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Even if you spend plenty of time on your own, dedicating time to spend on yourself will help you return to yourself.
  5. Pivot lifestyle measures – including getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels
  6. Use light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight.
  7. Seek professional help if you need it. You may find it empowering to face the winter with your own health and wellbeing in mind. However, despite your best efforts, you may feel persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, and dismayed by even routine tasks. If these feelings last for a while, ask for help. 

If you need professional help, Dr. Lianski advises speaking with your doctor about getting assistance. 

For more information about Saint Vincent Hospital’s Psychiatric Services, visit

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