Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a form of depression that responds to the world around you. The most severe symptoms are experienced during season changes. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder notice that their symptoms show up on a pretty close time schedule. The symptoms begin around the same time every year, and they leave at the same time every year.

The majority of people with SAD have expressed that their symptoms are worse, and stronger during the fall and winter months. It is very rare for SAD to cause depression in the spring or summer.

SAD does not just make you feel down in the dumps. It is a clinical disorder that causes fatigues, moodiness, and makes motivating yourself to carry out your regular routine almost impossible.

It is important that if you are suffering from depression symptoms that only appear during the dreary portion of the year (fall and winter) that you see your doctor. Never brush it off as “seasonal blues” or “Winter Blues.” There are steps you can take to relieve your symptoms, even if you only suffer from them for a few months out of the year.

What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Most patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder notice that their symptoms appear during the later portion of fall, when the days are drearier, and less bright than spring and summer. They also notice that their symptoms fade away when the winter months transition into spring. Their mood is usually the best in the later portion of spring, through the early fall months.

However, there are some people that experience the same symptoms, but in the opposite order. No matter when the symptoms appear or disappear, the symptoms will start out mild and transition to more severe symptoms as the seasons that affect them progress.

Major Depression

Many people are not aware that SAD is actually a subtype of major depressive disorder. The only difference is that SAD comes and goes as the seasons change. However, because it is a subtype of major depressive disorder, the same symptoms still apply. These symptoms are:

  • Experiencing full days of depression, almost every day.
  • Having an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Experiencing low energy levels
  • Experiencing a complete lack of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Feeling sluggish, or worn down
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Fall and Winter SAD

Fall and Winter SAD carry the same symptoms as major depressive disorder. However, it also carries its own set of symptoms to make matters worse:

  • Irritability, sometimes for no reason
  • Feeling tired and drained of energy
  • Difficulty getting along with people in general
  • Being extremely sensitive to rejection
  • Development of a heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Sleeping later than usual
  • Changes in appetite, most frequently craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain because of the change in appetite

Spring and Summer SAD

  • Frequent depression
  • Difficulty sleeping, possibly to the point of insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss due to loss of appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety, sometimes severe

Seasonal Changes Related To Bipolar

Some people who suffer from bipolar disorder suffer from symptoms that are similar to SAD. Spring and summer can bring on bouts of mania. Fall and winter can bring on bouts of depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Causes

While there is still much uncertainty as to the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, there are some interesting theories about the possible causes. One of the most widely held ideas is that seasonal affective disorder occurs when the body’s biological clock is disrupted. Somehow, the body does not adjust to the decreased sunlight as winter approaches leading to depression.

Another possible cause is related to the level of melatonin in the body. Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep patterns. When the days become shorter, more melatonin is released, causing lethargy and sadness.

One chemical in the body that regulates mood is serotonin. Some researchers believe that a reduced level of serotonin may lead to seasonal affective disorder as it does with other forms of depression.

As the days grow shorter and colder, people tend to be outside less. This can lead to a reduction in Vitamin D levels. A lack of Vitamin D has been shown to lead to the symptoms of depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Causes

While there is still much uncertainty as to the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, there are some interesting theories about the possible causes. One of the most widely held ideas is that seasonal affective disorder occurs when the body’s biological clock is disrupted. Somehow, the body does not adjust to the decreased sunlight as winter approaches leading to depression.

Another possible cause is related to the level of melatonin in the body. Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep patterns. When the days become shorter, more melatonin is released, causing lethargy and sadness.

One chemical in the body that regulates mood is serotonin. Some researchers believe that a reduced level of serotonin may lead to seasonal affective disorder as it does with other forms of depression.

As the days grow shorter and colder, people tend to be outside less. This can lead to a reduction in Vitamin D levels. A lack of Vitamin D has been shown to lead to the symptoms of depression.

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?

Treatment for SAD can include a wide variety of medical and scientific approaches. The most popular treatments for SAD and disorders that are similar to it respond well to a lot of different treatments. The following treatments are the most utilized in treatment:

  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Anti-depressants, sometimes more than one is prescribed to treat the depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Prevention

One of the best ways to help prevent seasonal affective disorder is to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Even though there is not as much sunlight in winter, try to get outdoors as much as possible. This may be as easy as taking a walk in the sunlight during lunch.

Taking a Vitamin D supplement may help prevent seasonal affective disorder or lessen the severity of its onset. Always consult with a healthcare provider before taking supplements. They will assist in finding the right dose to ward off symptoms.

Exercise has been shown to help reduce depression levels and to help those with a history of depression keep symptoms at bay. Before winter begins, starting an exercise program will help to get the body ready for the darkness of winter.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 06, 2017
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