Seasonal Affective Disorder

Most people experience some changes in mood and energy in connection with the rhythm of the seasons. For those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the changes in mood and energy levels that come with the seasons can be a threat to well-being.

SAD is a form of depression that usually begins between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30. Symptoms generally decline between February and mid-April. A few people, however, have summer, rather than winter, symptoms. Three times as many women as men are affected by SAD. Recent studies suggest that genetic factors may contribute to SAD.

What are the Symptoms of SAD?

  • Decreased interest in spending time with friends and family
  • Decreased energy level
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Increased food consumption/weight gain
  • Increased craving for carbohydrates
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Increased time spent sleeping (by at least one hour per day)

People with SAD may experience some or all of these symptoms. Overall, they will experience marked changes in their quality of life and coping abilities.

What are the Risk Factors?

Women between the ages of 20 and 40 who live far north or south of the equator are at the highest risk for experiencing SAD. Those who have a family history of mood disorders and/or alcoholism are also more likely to suffer from SAD.

How is SAD Treated?

It is important to see a physician to rule out other possible causes for mood and energy changes.

Doctors can diagnose SAD and determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you. Specific treatments are available to help bring balance back into the lives of those who have mild or severe changes in mood corresponding to the change of seasons. Treatment may involve the following:

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Stress management 
  • Light therapy
  • Medication
  • Support groups
  • Psychotherapy

Help Yourself

If the winter blues of SAD make your life difficult, greet this winter with a new plan:

  • Try to take frequent walks during daylight hours to absorb light and also get exercise, which will help relieve stress.
  • Spend time with friends doing things you enjoy. You may be less likely to feel down if you are with people whose company you appreciate.
  • Plan something to look forward to - a get-together, evening out to a special play, concert or movie.
  • Take a class or learn a new skill.
  • Go south! Plan a vacation to a warmer climate where it is sunnier and you can absorb more daylight. 
  • If you can’t take a full vacation, try a mini-vacation or a weekend away. Travel to a sunnier spot or just a place where you can get out more, absorb more daylight and relieve some stress. 
  • Join a support group.