Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

Mehru Siddiqui

For some people, as the seasons change, so do their mood, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. Summer may bring joy and motivation while the winter months are spent in despair and misery. Or it could be the other way around. People who deal with these occurrences probably have seasonal affective disorder.

According to Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons.” Seasonal affective disorder starts and ends around the same time each year. Many people with SAD begin having symptoms in the fall which continue through the winter months as well. For others, symptoms begin during the spring and resolve after summer has ended. Overall symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, losing interest in hobbies, sleeping too much, cravings, and suicidal thoughts. 

Winter/fall symptoms may be appetite changes, weight gain, oversleeping, and low energy. Spring/summer symptoms are insomnia, weight loss, poor appetite, anxiety, and increased irritability. Complications that people with SAD might face are substance abuse, social withdrawal, and other mental health disorders such as eating disorders and anxiety. Those with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of SAD. For people who deal with both, mania may correspond to spring and summer. Likewise, depression symptoms will occur around winter and fall.

SAD is also more common in women than men. People who have bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder are at risk as well as people with a family history of SAD or those who live far from the equator. Low vitamin D levels also play a role as they help with serotonin activity. 

SAD may be caused by a disrupted circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a body’s internal clock. Decreased sunlight can affect this rhythm and cause feelings of fatigue and depression. It may also affect your body’s melatonin level which can lead to sleep pattern and mood changes. Serotonin levels can also cause seasonal affective disorder. Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent SAD, but addressing symptoms early can help ease mood and energy levels. 

There are some treatments used to help people cope with SAD. Some people may feel that more sunlight helps ease symptoms. Light therapy is a treatment similar to this. In light therapy, a person sits besides a light therapy box. The light from this box is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain to lift your mood and the weight of several other symptoms. Another common treatment is a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

If you suspect that you may be dealing with two or more symptoms after a long period of time, please reach out to a qualified healthcare professional such as a doctor.