What is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression associated with changes in the seasons. In most cases, it affects people during the early winter or late fall, when there is less natural sunlight. That said, some people experience an opposite pattern beginning in the spring or summer. In either case, symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on each individual person.
- A subtype of major depression, seasonal affective disorder can result in an array of symptoms, including:
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Low energy
- Less interest in favorite activities
- Sleeping problems
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Sluggishness or agitation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide or death
In addition to these general symptoms, there are specific symptoms related to fall, winter, spring and summer seasonal affective disorder. These include:
Fall and Winter SAD
- Fatigue or low energy
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy feeling in legs or arms
- Sleeping too much
- Cravings and weight gain
Spring and Summer SAD
- Weight loss
- Anxiety or agitation
- Poor appetite
Causes and Treatments
The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown; however, researchers believe it has something to do with circadian rhythms, serotonin levels and/or melatonin levels. There are a variety of treatments for SAD, including light therapy, antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. You can also improve your symptoms by exposing yourself to more sunlight and by exercising more frequently. It's also important to manage stress and avoid potential triggers that promote negative thoughts.
Most of the time, symptoms improve without treatment; however, some people can develop worsening problems that include thoughts of suicide. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you believe you are struggling with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.