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Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Michelle Caldwell

Cheerful children bundling up for days of sledding and snowmen, families preparing for holiday celebrations, and the beautiful frozen trees! Winter can be an opportunity for many to come together and celebrate. However, it can also be a time of hardships and stress for others.

This wintery, holiday-filled season may bring upon added financial stress, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and struggles with mental health. Did you know change of seasons can bring on what is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder”(SAD)-commonly referred to as seasonal depression?

What is SAD?

SAD is very similar to Major Depressive Disorder symptoms though typically follows a pattern of the seasons. It’s possible to occur in the summer months, though most often follows the wintery months. According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the primary time of year to be affected is late fall-early spring. Those potential financial stressors, or feelings of isolation can further perpetuate symptoms of depression.

Before we look at self-care options and stress management, it’s important to know when to contact your doctor and/or therapist. Especially if you are experiencing heightened symptoms of depression that are interfering with your day-to-day life, such as: thoughts of hopelessness, major changes in appetite, loss of interest in activities, or thoughts of death/suicide. Medications such as anti-depressants can be prescribed.

So, what are some other common treatments or helpful self-care tips to address the winter blues? Dr. Yael Nillni has some great tips.

  • Light-therapy: The winter months can bring on extra darkness and according to NIMH, 20-60 minutes a day using light therapy can ease symptoms by replacing the lack of sunlight. A typical light recommended is 10,000 lux and you can find many options to order online or ask your doctor/therapist about them!
  • Connection: Reaching out to other’s and staying connected to your support system. Engage with friends, family, pets, to look for warmth that feels lost in the cold days!
  • Finding regularly scheduled activities that you enjoy. Staying connected to other’s through hobbies can benefit us year-round! Maybe a book club with friends or joining a group class, it’s important to find hobbies and groups that you are passionate about. This will make one less likely to disengage as the cold approaches.
  • Exercising can naturally stimulate hormones comparable to anti-depressant medications.

These are just a few suggestions to cope with symptoms of depression, particularly Seasonal Affective Disorder. If symptoms of depression feel like they are interfering with your day-to-day life there are many great resources in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor, including student clinicians at the Olson Marriage and Family Clinic. 



Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

Nillni, Y. (2019, January 31). 6 Questions Answered: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/blog/seasonal-affective-disorder-spotlight.

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