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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Symptoms, Risks & Solutions

Seasonal depression disorder is much more than those “winter blues”. Fortunately, one can kick those seasonal depression symptoms and find the light during the dark months of the year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Symptoms, Risks & Solutions

Wondering about seasonal depression symptoms? Seasonal affective disorder is a type of seasonal depression - sometimes called SAD disorder.

Seasonal depression is way more than just the "winter blues", and luckily there are a few common courses of treatment. 

Read on to find the light during dark months of the year!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Meaning, Causes & Symptoms

The changing of the season can prompt small but significant shifts in one's life. Seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs when seasons change. 

SAD begins and ends around the same time each year. Typically, symptoms occur when the days get shorter in the fall and last into the winter months. In rare cases, SAD causes depression starting in the spring or early summer and lasting into the fall. 

Common symptoms of SAD include: 

• Decreased energy
• Feeling moody or depressed most of the time
• Losing motivation, interest, or hope
• Changes in weight or appetite
• Feeling lethargic, sluggish, or agitated
• Having difficulty concentrating
• Feeling worthless or guilty
• Having frequent suicidal thoughts
• Substance abuse
• Disturbances in sleep

Symptoms more specific to fall and winter includes: 

• Excessive sleep (oversleeping or hypersomnia)
• Changes in appetite 
• Cravings for food high in carbohydrates
• Overeating
• Weight gain
• Increased feelings of tiredness
• Decreased low energy
• Social withdrawal 

Symptoms of spring and summer SAD include: 

• Insomnia
• Low appetite
• Weight loss
• Agitation 
• Anxiety
• Episodes of aggressive behavior

Seasonal Affective Disorder Risk Factors

There are some specific risk factors for SAD, such as:

• Having a family history of SAD or mental illness (i.e. depression or schizophrenia)
• Having major depressive disorder 
• Having an eating disorder
• Having a panic disorder
• Having bipolar disorder
• Living far from the equator where daylight is decreased

Other causes that can complicate SAD include: 

• Social withdrawal
• Problems at work or school
• Mental health struggles (i.e. anxiety or eating disorders)

Seasonal Affective Disorder Tips

Luckily, people with SAD have many options to manage negative feelings and emotions during a tough season. What to do about the "winter blues" depends on the individual. The following tips and tricks may be able to help. 

1. Try Light Therapy

Light therapy, or phototherapy, can help "trick" the body into thinking it is a sunnier season. It has been known to help some people improve their mood and motivation. 

Lightboxes, usually used first thing in the morning, can expose the body to bright light and make things seem a bit brighter. 

2. Know When to See a Doctor 

Feeling a seasonal slump is okay, although prolonged feelings of depression deserve the help of professionals. If feelings last for several days without relief, or there is a lack of motivation for normal activities, it’s time to see a doctor. 

Likewise know consulting with a physician, mental health professional, etc. does not signify personal weakness or judgment. Instead, recognize seeking out such help is prideful and can be the exact step needed to overcome winter depression.

3. Consider Psychotherapy ("Talk Therapy")

Cognitive behavioral therapy (called CBT) can help encourage healthy coping mechanisms regardless of the season. 

In CBT, one learns how to refocus thoughts into helpful behaviors. It can help individuals to set a schedule that makes winter more bearable. 

4. Use Medication as Prescribed

Prescribed properly, antidepressants may be a good fit. Speak with a qualified medical professional to find the best medication. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used to enhance an individual's mood. 

5. Ensure Adequate Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial to overall health and may be especially important to a balanced mood. The sunlight helps to convert vitamin D into a form the body can use. 

When daylight hours are low, consider talking with a healthcare professional about obtaining vitamin D in adequate amounts. A doctor and dietitian can help identify food sources of vitamin D and recommend supplementation as needed. 

In Summary on Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Seasonal affective disorder is more than just the "winter blues". It is a serious condition with causes, symptoms, and risk factors. 

Luckily, there are five common treatment options to consider. These include a variety of therapies, consultations with health professionals, and meeting vitamin D needs. 


Seasonal Depression. Cleveland Clinic. Published December 7, 2020. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. Published October 25, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Seasonal Affective Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder.