Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) : What Is It?  What Are The Symptoms Of SAD? And Other Details You need to know

The symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder or SAD start in the fall and continue into the winter months. This illness is more prevalent in younger adults than in older ones. Find out if you have the symptoms of SAD and what you can do to prevent them.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Is It?
Seasonal Affective Disorder: What Is It?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is similar to major depressive disorder (MDD) the only difference is that this mental illness is seasonal and is provoked by seasonal change. More often the signs and symptoms start to show during fall or winter.

Beginning in the fall and lasting through the winter this mental illness has the capability of draining your energy and making you moody. 

The symptoms can vary from constantly feeling depressed to lacking the motivation to engage in your favorite activities.

The treatment for SAD can involve Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications recommended by the doctor.


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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Symptoms

  • Lack of energy 
  • oversleeping 
  • sluggishness 
  • losing interest in routine activities 
  • Carbohydrate cravings, overeating, and weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having negative thoughts 

SAD and Bipolar Disorder

  • People with bipolar disorder can be at an increased risk of seasonal affective disorder. 
  • In some cases of bipolar disorder, episodes of mania may be linked to a specific season like spring and summer where the mania could be a less intense form of mania (hypomania), anxiety, agitation, and irritability. 
  • People with bipolar disorder may also experience depression during the fall and winter months.

SAD: Causes

Though there is no specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, some factors that may come into play include:


  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm): If you don't get enough sunlight or if the level of sunlight is reduced it can contribute to causing SAD. This decrease in sunlight disrupts your body's internal clock and leads to the dreaded feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels: if your serotonin levels drop a brain chemical neurotransmitter is released that affects your mood and might play a role in SAD. The reduction of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin which may activate depressive thoughts. 
  • Melatonin levels: The change in season can disturb the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which is a huge factor in sleep patterns and mood.


Risk factors of SAD

Studies show that Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men. Though SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults the factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder or SAD include:


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


Seasonal Affective Disorder: Treatment

SAD treatments can include 

  • counseling 
  • medications 
  • therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help people learn to focus on positive thoughts and activities rather than negative ones.


In some cases, some people with SAD can also benefit from Antidepressants. These may include:

  • fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • paroxetine (Paxil)
  • sertraline (Zoloft)
  • bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Taking recommendations from your doctor about which medication is very crucial 

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D supplements can be used to treat SAD as well though some studies indicate that these supplements may not be effective, and more research needs to be done.

Healthy lifestyle habits: 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help one tackle the symptoms of SAD and they may include:

  • regular exercise and 
  • sun exposure, 
  • Balanced diet 
  • Socializing 

Light therapy:

Light therapy involves using a specialized light box for at least 30 minutes each day during the winter to replicate natural light.

This therapy might have side effects which may include dizziness, eye fatigue, or headaches. 

Avoid light therapy if you:

  • have certain eye diseases
  • recently had eye surgery
  • are sensitive to light due to other medications
  • have bipolar disorder 

Dawn Simulator:

The Dawn simulator uses a timer-activated light to mimic the sunrise, which helps to stimulate the body’s clock.

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When to see a 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 healthcare provider. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
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