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Seasonal Affective Disorder: It’s More Than a Feeling

OK – first of all, if you didn’t just read that title and then immediately sing a Boston song in your head, then who even are you?? Go ahead and click the link. I’ll wait.

It’s funny how we do that, isn’t it? Use humor to combat some of the more difficult things in life … because although belting out some Boston is a darn good time if I’ve ever had one, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is not.

And unfortunately, I’ve had that, too.

SAD really is more than a feeling, it’s a type of persistent seasonal depression that tends to set in during the winter months, and usually recurs year after year at around the same time. There are lots of theories about why this happens, but most researchers agree that the fewer number of sunny days in the winter are a major contributing factor. There are lots of other interesting components like circadian rhythms and proximity to the equator which I won’t get into here, but if you’re interested you can research for yourself here, or here.

SAD manifests differently in different people; some will experience more typical depressive symptoms like feelings of hopelessness or loss of interest in daily activities. I experienced extreme exhaustion with no apparent explanation. My blood work looked great, I ate well, I exercised regularly, and I got plenty of sleep, but I was exhausted.

If you suspect that you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you should see your doctor before deciding on a course of treatment. Therapy and medications are usually viable options for treating SAD, but there also are some alternative treatments that have proved to be successful as well. Just as SAD presents itself uniquely in each individual, each individual will also find different treatments more or less effective. I’m confident that you and your doctor can find something that works for you.

Here’s a list of things to get the conversation with your doctor started.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is one of the most well-researched and beneficial treatments for SAD. There are a wide variety of lights available, varying both in intensity and aesthetic appeal. Many are about the size and shape of a large IPad, but a few come in more “displayable” globe designs in case you plan to leave your light out when not using it. I use mine in the morning while I’m watching the news and having my usual three cups of coffee 😬 Therapy or “happy” lights can be found in abundance on Amazon, but I would encourage you to check your local health food store, if you have one. I try to be a philanthropic temporary citizen by supporting local small businesses whenever possible, and becoming familiar with your local store and its staff will benefit you while you’re searching for our second treatment option.

Vitamins D and B

Light affects so much of the way our bodies work, including how we metabolize certain vitamins – particularly vitamin D. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Generally, people who live closer to the equator and have plenty of sunny days produce more than adequate amounts of vitamin D. However, when you live somewhere farther away from the equator, like Upstate New York, Alaska, or Germany (all have military bases), you may have very few sunny days during the winter months. Since sunlight is the only natural way to get adequate amounts of vitamin D, people living in those locations are more likely to need a supplement. 

Another vitamin supplement which has shown promise in treating SAD is vitamin B, specifically a well-rounded vitamin B complex containing plenty of B6 and B12. Vitamin B has been touted for years for its ability to raise energy levels, which almost always suffer greatly during a bout of SAD.

If you’re dealing with some serious exhaustion, ask your doctor about a blood test which can determine whether or not you have adequate amounts of  vitamins D and B. 

Get Out!

If you’re dealing with SAD, I know that getting out is often the last thing you want to do — believe me. Unbuckling three kids in below zero weather and dragging in backpacks and diaper bags while freezing snow pelts you in the face ain’t nobody’s cup of tea … but it’s worth it. I promise that it is, and I have a three step approach that I use to guide me during those times when being a hibernating mama bear seems like just about the nicest thing on the planet.

(You know how we military folk love a good three step plan! Haha!)

  • Get out and be social! Again, this is often a difficult thing for someone suffering from SAD to do, but there are lots of groups that meet weekly or biweekly which will help to hold you accountable for getting out of the house. Book clubs, MOPS, and PWOC almost always meet on post or in the community just outside of it.
  • Get out and be active! Regular physical activity is such a potent antidote in treating depression of any kind. Please check out Amie’s post for some fantastic information and ideas about incorporating regular activity into your routine. Bonus points if you can combine your social time with your physically active time in an intramural sports team, skiing or snowshoeing club, or even just an outdoor walking group.
  • Get out and change it up! Sometimes a little jolt of change is all it takes to get me over the hump and onto smoother sailing. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but things like a fun new haircut, learning a new sport or handicraft, or taking lessons on a new instrument are all great options to change up your routine and get you focused on something new.



From one tired mama bear to another, if you’ve noticed that you’re not yourself this winter; if you’re unmotivated to do things you normally love; or if you just feel tired all the time, see your doctor. Your people need you, mama. The military community needs you – you’re kinda what keeps us all together; we need our glue. I’m proud of you for getting out there and for trying. You got through those holidays without family, you kicked that extended TDYS butt, you rocked that last deployment, and you’ll get through SAD, too, I’m sure of it. More than anything I want to say: Don’t suffer alone. Reach out. We’re here for you.




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6 Responses to Seasonal Affective Disorder: It’s More Than a Feeling

  1. Earnestly Earin February 23, 2018 at 9:00 am #

    I’m glad I’m not alone! I struggle with SAD every year, though I’ve never sought a diagnosis. I just know that I’m suddenly crankier, more prone to tears, and less motivated for everything. And this is so timely because February seems to be the month when all my coping mechanisms fail and I just want to stay in my jammies watching Netflix and eating chocolate all day. I’m resolving to start a new routine to help me take my vitamin D and use my happy light (because even though I have them, I’m not using them and so not getting any benefit). Thank you for writing instead of holing up like I know you want to.

    • Christian Knutson February 23, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

      I need to be more consistent too, I am notoriously bad about forgetting my vitamins. Working them into a routine is a great suggestion, I will be trying that! I’m definitely all about some Netflix and chocolate, so long as it doesn’t take over my life. Cheers to new and improved routines!

  2. Megan February 23, 2018 at 10:34 am #

    Yes, yes, and yes to this article! It’s so refreshing to hear treatment options from someone who’s been down in the mud with us. Talking to your doctor is important, but you listed some great ways to get back on your feet, doctor-free too. SAD is an awful place to be – it piles on the despair and leaves you feeling like you’ll never feel normal again. Thanks for shining a (happy) light at the end of the tunnel for those of us fighting to make it through to Spring.

    • Christian Knutson February 23, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

      Thanks Megan. I actually really appreciate your last sentence…fighting to make it through to Spring..I think people often see depression as a weakness, or a character flaw or something, when in reality most people are battling and doing their darnedest to fight for their health. Looking forward to Spring right along with you 🙂

  3. Erin February 23, 2018 at 11:10 am #

    This is so relevant! Thank you for writing somthing so normalizing and real!

    • Christian Knutson February 23, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

      Thanks Erin!!

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