Combatting seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes referred to as seasonal depression, is a condition where a person experiences depression at a certain time of year, most often during the fall and winter months.

“People with seasonal depression have the normal symptoms associated with depression: feeling depressed most of the day and nearly everyday, a lack of pleasure or interest in things that they would normally enjoy, and difficulty concentrating,” said Dr. Cheryl Owen, a member of the behavioral health team at Regional Health Command Europe.

“It is helpful to think of the hibernation period of a bear when trying to remember the symptoms,” said Owen. “People tend to have less energy and are tired and have a greater need for sleep, they are hungrier and crave carbohydrates resulting in weight gain, and they have an increased desire to be alone.”

Owen recommends several things to alleviate SAD and feel better throughout the winter months and changing seasons.

“Spend some time outside each day, even when it’s cloudy,” she said. “Certainly if the sun pops out, go grab it. Also think of the performance triad. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule, eating healthy, and exercising at least 30 minutes five times a week can help some people avoid these symptoms.”

COVID has added additional precautions to just ‘going outside.’

“To the degree you are able, given COVID restrictions, remain social,” said Owen. “COVID can be a particular challenge not only with seasonal depression but for all kinds of behavioral health issues. Most of us miss the opportunity to travel carefree, see friends and family when we want, visit with neighbors and go out to social establishments. It has required much compromise on what we had envisioned for ourselves over the last few months and likely into the winter.”

Owen recommended several resources for individuals with on-going symptoms.

“If you experience ongoing depressive symptoms, take care and do something for yourself,” she said. “Make an appointment with your primary care physician. If you don’t believe it’s related to the seasonal changes, you should make an appointment with a behavioral health provider. If you have thoughts of killing yourself, please don’t keep those to yourself. People will help. You can tell someone you trust, go to a local hospital or behavioral health clinic or call the military crisis line.”

Dial 118 from any U.S. Air Force or U.S. Army installation in Europe. Dial 00800-1273-TALK (8255) for a commercial toll-free line in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Or visit the Military Crisis Line website at