Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Written by Trisha L., Sprout Volunteer

Welcome to the New Year! It has been snowing for what seems like forever and the hustle and bustle of the holidays are finally over. You would think that you would be feeling relieved, right? Wrong. Some people just blame the “winter blues” for that feeling of blah. But it could be more than just the holiday run down catching up with you.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year. While seasonal affective disorder affects most people in the fall and winter months, it can also cause depression in the spring or early summer.

Seasonal affective Disorder is a cyclical, seasonal condition, meaning signs and symptoms come back and go away at the same time every year. Whether you have symptoms in fall, winter, summer or spring, problems almost always start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. There are generally two separate types of seasonal affective disorder, winter depression and summer depression, and symptoms of each tend to differ depending on the season. Symptoms of fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression) include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, appetite changes, weight gain and difficulty concentrating and processing information. Symptoms of spring and summer seasonal affective disorder (summer depression) include anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability, agitation, weight loss, poor appetite and increased sex drive.

Many people with seasonal affective disorder try to tough it out, but fortunately there are lots of other options. It’s normal to have days where you just feel down, but when you just can’t seem to get out of that funk it may be time to see your doctor. Doctors may prescribe a light therapy treatment, medication and/or psychotherapy. If your condition is not severe, there are many home remedies you can try as well, such as: making your home/work areas sunnier and brighter, getting outside more and exercising regularly.

While the specific causes of seasonal affective disorder remain unknown, it is likely that genetics, age and your bodies natural chemical makeup all play a role in developing the condition. A few specific factors that may come into play include your biological clock, melatonin levels and serotonin levels. Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include being female, living far from the equator and your family history.

Left untreated, seasonal affective disorder can worsen and lead to problems including suicidal thoughts or behavior, social withdrawal, school or work problems and substance abuse. Prior to seeing your doctor, record your symptoms, write information about your depression patterns, make a note of any other mental or physical health problems, write down any major stressors of life changes, make a list of all medications and write down specific questions you would like to ask. By preparing this information beforehand you will be able to cover more ground in a short amount of time.

While your doctor may prescribe medication to help treat seasonal affective disorder, there are some things you can do on your own that may help, such as making your environment sunnier and brighter, getting outside as often as possible and exercising regularly. There are also a number of nutritional and dietary supplements people commonly use to help ease symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, including St. John’s wort, SAMe, Melatonin and Omega-3 fatty acids.

While there is not yet a way to prevent seasonal affective disorder, if you take the necessary steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms would normally start in fall and winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. By gaining control of your symptoms early on, you may be able to prevent serious changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.

For more information talk with your health care provider. More information on this topic can also be found at