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What is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder - (Image Credit: Shutterstock); Author picture - (Image Credit: Author)


It’s that time of the year again for some people. It typically starts with Fall and ends when the weather starts to get warmer.

No, I’m not talking about the holiday season, I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder. A lot of people refer to SAD as seasonal depression and you have probably heard the term thrown around some.

Some people will get what they call the “winter blues.” It’s colder and it gets darker early. The weather is a little less pleasant and you may get stuck inside more.

While its normal to feel a little blue being stuck inside a lot, SAD goes way past that.


Seasonal affective disorder is depression that is triggered by a change in seasons. It usually starts with Fall, gets worse in the Winter, and tapers off in the Spring.

Sad begins and ends at the same time each year for most people. SAD will drain you of your energy and it can make you feel moody.

About 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD every year and 75% of those are women.


SAD is more common in younger adults and women. You are at a higher risk of SAD if you already have another mental health diagnosis including

Major Depressive Disorder

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • An Eating Or Panic Disorder

People that live at high latitudes and cloudy regions are also at higher risks.


While it’s not known what specifically causes SAD, there are some theories. Less exposure to sunlight can throw off your body’s biological clock.

This clock is the thing that regulates your mood, sleep, and hormones. Less sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin.

Serotonin is the feel-good hormone; it contributes to feelings of happiness. Sunlight helps us produce Vitamin D.

Serotonin is boosted by vitamin D, so less vitamin D less serotonin. Lack of sunlight may also lead to increase in Melatonin which can make us feel sleepy and sluggish.

So, while it still up in the air as to a specific cause, it seems to be traced back to less sunlight.


Usually, these symptoms appear in late fall or early winter. These symptoms could include:

  • Feeling depressed all the time
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of little to no hope, low self-worth or feelings of guilt
  • Constantly thinking about death or committing suicide
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse


There are a variety of ways to treat or prevent SAD. These options include both medical and lifestyle remedies.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This is a type of talk therapy and research has shown that it produces the longest-lasting effects.
  • Phototherapy: This type of therapy uses a special lamp and light. For more on light therapy go here.
  • Antidepressant medications: Sometimes providers will recommend medication with a combination of any of the other options on this list.
  • Spending Time Outdoors: Getting more sunlight can be a big help. Try to get outside each day if possible. The more sunlight the better.
  • Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help compensate for a lack of sunlight.
  • Eat a Well-Balanced Diet: What you eat matters. You aren’t going to feel good if you don’t put good food into your body. Try to pick out foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Exercise: Exercising is a known natural antidepressant. Try to exercise every day, but if that isn’t possible then aim for 30 minutes 3 days a week.
  • See Friends: Stay social and connected with your friend group. They can provide much needed support during the winter months.
  • Make Your Environment Brighter: Maybe you can’t get outside that much, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t let more sunshine into wherever you are. Open your blinds and sit close to bright windows while you at work or at home.


Seasonal depression is very treatable despite the cause of it being somewhat unknown still. It’s important to start your treatment early to ease symptoms.

Remember to stick to your treatment plan and to always take care of yourself. Lean on trusted friends and family to get through it and be sure to get plenty of sunlight!

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The content on our website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. You should NEVER disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment due to something you have read on our website and we will not be held responsible for any adverse health condition or injury that occurs as a result of doing so.
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Sarah Willey

Healthcare Marketing and Sales Representative

My name is Sarah Willey and I work in sales representative for a company out of Delaware, DE where I helped to kick start a patient wellness blog. I am a mental health advocate and fitness guru who is passionate about the connection between both. You can fo...

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