Seasonal Affective Disorder and Massage

Nearly one in five Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its lesser form, the winter blues, according to the American Massage Therapists Association. While the winter blues may hinder a person’s ability to function fully, SAD is a serious disorder that causes depression, anxiety, lethargy, trouble sleeping, changes to appetite and weight and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts and actions. While SAD typically occurs in conjunction with fall and winter season changes, it is possible for the condition to begin in spring and summer.

Causes of SAD

The medical community has yet to identify a definitive cause for this depressive disorder, however, some likely culprits include:

  • Disruption to your circadian rhythm. The lack of sunlight in fall and winter months may upset the internal biological clock, leading to depression and sleep issues.
  • Reduced melatonin levels. Seasonal changes can reduce the body’s production of melatonin, that plays a key role in sleep and mood.
  • Decreased serotonin levels. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is also a key influencer for mood and may be reduced by lack of exposure to sunlight.
  • Reduced vitamin D production. As the body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure, dreary seasons may trigger a shortage of this vitamin, resulting in depression and mood changes.

The Role of Massage for SAD Treatment

  • Research has shown that Serotonin and Dopamine increase following massage therapy. Serotonin is responsible for mood, internal temperature and appetite. * Dopamine helps to regulate mood and muscle movement.
  • There is also evidence that massage therapy decreases Cortisol, which is a hormone that is also know as the “stress hormone”.
  • Massage therapy can improve sleep quality.
  • Massage therapy can increase concentration and energy levels.
  • Endorphins released during massage therapy, aid in the body’s natural management of depression and anxiety.

Diagnosing SAD

As with any health concern, if you believe you may be suffering from SAD, you should consult your doctor right away. There are a variety of symptoms that may indicate you are suffering from SAD and they can vary by season.


  • Decreased energy
  • Increased appetite/weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Desire to isolate
  • Sleeping more

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation and anxiety