Can Darker Days Make Us SAD? Here Is What You Need To Know

By Anika Nayak

Haley Neidich, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in perinatal mental health. She regularly provides therapy to women and helps them foster creative solutions to healing. Haley uses her training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based interventions in mental health evaluations and treatment. 

We spoke to Haley about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that gets triggered when it comes to a change in seasons. According to the University of Utah Health department, more women are affected by SAD symptoms than men. If you have unanswered questions about what SAD is and how it affects women’s health, we hope you find this interview helpful. 

Healthified: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Tell us what SAD is. What kinds of symptoms do those affected by SAD experience?

Haley Neidich: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a common mood disorder that presents during the winter months where there is less light during the day. SAD has the greatest impact on individuals who live in colder and darker climates, but it can impact people who live in warm and sunny climates who are super sensitive to the change in light. People with SAD commonly report a lack of energy, disinterest in things they used to love (anhedonia), negative thinking and social isolation. 

Healthified: Does stress play a role in the occurrence or treatment of SAD? Could reducing stress lead to improved outcomes with SAD? 

Haley Neidich: A high level of stress makes individuals more vulnerable to developing a number of mental health disorders, including SAD. When stress is experienced both psychological and physiological changes occur, flooding the body with stress hormones which can contribute to a sense of exhaustion and isolation. What we also see clinically is that individuals with SAD are more susceptible to experiencing smaller issues as more stressful given a lower tolerance for managing adversity while their symptoms are at a peak. 

Healthified: Is there a connection between SAD and pregnancy/postpartum issues? 

Haley Neidich: During the postpartum period, birthing people are at a heightened risk for developing complex mental health disorders. While 1 in 7 women will meet the diagnostic criteria for postpartum depression, we know that many factors, including a history of SAD or giving birth during the winter can increase the chances of developing PPD. A 2018 study indicated findings that women who gave birth during winter months were at a 35% risk of developing PPD compared with women who birthed during other seasons who had a 26% change of developing the disorder. Giving birth triggers a myriad of intense hormonal changes which make women more vulnerable to the change in seasons. 

If you think you may be experiencing SAD, reach out to your healthcare provider or a therapist today to discuss evaluation and treatment. If you’re already diagnosed with SAD, here are some mind-body techniques that may help you cope, the Mayo Clinic says:

  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi 
  • Meditation 
  • Guided imagery 
  • Music or art therapy

If you think you may be experiencing SAD, reach out to your healthcare provider or a therapist to discuss evaluation and treatment.

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