What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that happens during the same season every year. If you have SAD, your symptoms will begin in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. In some cases, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Nowadays, methods to treat SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.

You shouldn’t misunderstand it with yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Usually prepare to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

How common is seasonal affective disorder?

This health condition is extremely common. It commonly affects more females than males. It can affect between the ages of 15 and 55. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

Major depression

Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of major depression that comes and goes based on seasons. So symptoms of major depression may be part of SAD, such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Fall and winter SAD

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

Spring and summer SAD

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.


When should I see my doctor?

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.


What causes seasonal affective disorder?

There aren’t any exactly causes of SAD. A lack of sunlight may be considered as a reason. Lack of light may:

  • Disturb your “biological clock,” which controls your sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms.
  • Cause problems with serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for seasonal affective disorder?

There are many risk factors for seasonal affective disorder, such as:

  • Higher risk with Female. SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have more-severe symptoms.
  • Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD, and winter SAD is less likely to occur in older adults.
  • Family history. People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
  • Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
  • Living far from the equator. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is seasonal affective disorder diagnosed?

  • Physical exam. A physical exam can be required and you will be asked in-depth questions about your health. In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem.
  • Lab tests. For instance, do a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) or test your thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly.
  • Psychological evaluation. To define exactly signs of depression, your doctor or mental health provider asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns.

How is seasonal affective disorder treated?

  • Light therapy. In this therapy, also called phototherapy, you will be exposed to bright light when you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
  • Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe.
  • Psychotherapy, also called conservation therapy, is another option to treat SAD. Psychotherapy can help you:
    • Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
    • Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD
    • Learn how to manage stress

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage seasonal affective disorder?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with seasonal affective disorder:

  • Keep your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or add skylights to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
  • Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise and many other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms.
  • healthy diet with lean protein, fruits, and vegetables
  • regular sleep

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 18, 2017 | Last Modified: July 18, 2017