Skip to main content

Lots of people feel down, stuck in the house, or struggle to stay positive in cold, icy weather. Navigating weather changes, days shortening, and the sun setting earlier can be significantly challenging for some. Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t just “winter blues.”

What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects millions of people worldwide, particularly in regions with shorter winter days. It’s characterized by a seasonal pattern of mood changes, with symptoms typically appearing in fall or winter and easing up in spring and summer.

Symptoms of SAD:

  • Low mood and depression: Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable most days of the week.
  • Loss of interest in activities: No longer enjoying hobbies or activities you once found pleasurable.
  • Changes in sleep: Oversleeping or difficulty sleeping.
  • Changes in appetite: Increased craving for carbohydrates and weight gain, or decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • Low energy and fatigue: Feeling tired and sluggish most of the day.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Problems focusing at work or school.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social interactions and isolating yourself.

Some symptoms can be specific to ‘winter depression’ or ‘summer depression’:

Fall & Winter SAD Symptoms Spring & Summer SAD Symptoms
  • Oversleeping
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Poor appetite & weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Increased irritability

Why does SAD occur?
The exact causes of SAD are unknown, but it’s likely linked to the reduced sunlight exposure during shorter days. This can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which affects mood, sleep, and hormone regulation. Changes in serotonin and melatonin levels, neurotransmitters that influence mood and sleep, may also play a role.

Risk Factors

Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men; women are about 2 to 4 times as likely to experience SAD as men. And SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults. It mostly hits people starting between ages 20 and 30; roughly the same age as the onset of regular depression.

Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Family history. 
  • Having major depression or bipolar disorder. 
  • Living far from the equator. 
  • Low level of vitamin D. 


Living with SAD
If you suspect you have SAD, it’s important to seek professional help. A doctor or therapist can diagnose SAD and recommend treatment options, which may include:

  • Light therapy: Exposure to a bright light box that mimics natural sunlight can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve mood.
  • Talk therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to depression.
  • Medication: Antidepressants may be prescribed in some cases.
  • Lifestyle changes: Getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and spending time outdoors can all improve mood and well-being.

Tips for coping with SAD

  • Embrace the light: Open your curtains and spend time outdoors during daylight hours, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Stay active: Exercise releases endorphins, which can improve mood and energy levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Focus on nutrient-rich foods that support your mood and well-being.
  • Connect with others: Social interaction can help combat feelings of isolation.
  • Be kind to yourself: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be patient with yourself as you recover.

Remember: You’re not alone. SAD is a common condition, and there are effective treatments available. By taking steps to manage your symptoms, you can enjoy the winter months and look forward to the brighter days ahead. If you feel you need help managing the symptoms of SAD, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.

Information for this blog post was gathered from The National Institute of Mental Health, The American Academy of Family Physicians, and The Mayo Clinic.