Health & Wellness Articles

The Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Beyond the Winter Blues

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Many of us might say that being less active in the winter is the normal cycle of life. A less peppy mood may be typical in this season, but for some people, cold weather and lack of sunshine bring on more than the usual winter blahs. It can bring on a form of clinical depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

If you live in a northern region, where skies are normally gray from October to March, it’s not uncommon for a lack of sunshine to make you feel depressed. Research has proved that brain chemistry is affected by bright light, although the exact process is not clear. Less than 1% of the population in sunny Florida report symptoms of SAD, yet about 10% of Alaskans report severe winter depression. It is a real illness that affects as many as 6 out of 100 people in the U.S. Even 10 to 20% more people may experience a milder form of SAD. It’s more common in women and usually first appears in one’s 20s. People with SAD typically feel better when spring comes, and then experience symptoms again in the late fall.

In general, we tend to eat and sleep more in the winter and experience more ups and downs during the shorter days. Winter may bring about weight gain and a lack of energy for people in general, but symptoms are more serious for SAD sufferers. The list below gives a range of symptoms that are clues to whether you have SAD. Not everyone who suffers from it experiences the same symptoms.
  • Cravings for sweets and starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Noticeable drop in energy
  • Fatigue
  • Tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating at work and at home
  • Irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Hopelessness (including suicidal thoughts)
  • Constant agitation and anxiety
There ARE ways to treat SAD. A popular method is light therapy, where patients start with 30-45 minutes of daily treatment in front of special bright fluorescent lights and then gradually reduce this duration on a weekly basis. The intensity of light equals about the same that you might see when looking out the window on a sunny day. People with SAD have reported great relief from this type of treatment. Other treatments involve prescribed antidepressants with physician supervision. 

If you think you might have SAD, learn as much as you can about it. Stay aware of your symptoms so that you can take action to get better. Find a health professional who is qualified to treat SAD and discuss treatments that are most appropriate for your individual needs.

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Member Comments

  • I have the opposite version of SAD....which does not get acknowledged.
  • SMITHNANCY
    I have SAD as well, My symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping my energy and making me feel moody. I started reading a lot on SAD and got to know that many people are in the same boat. Find some more interesting content on wellbeingart "Eradicate negative energy from your close surroundings"
  • I am in Ontario Canada and experience SAD every Fall/Winter
  • I'm in Manitoba Canada. From beginning of December to mid January, we get less than 8 hours of sunlight. And then, it increases by about 2 min a day. I am 59 and have suffered with SAD for most of my life. I honestly thought I was going crazy and that just drove up the anxiety.

    I now have a light. It makes an incredible difference. I make time for it by using it when I'm online or reading. I'm sure I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for that light.
  • I live in Michigan and my DH suffers from SAD every winter. Drives to work in the dark, drives back home in the dark. Works inside so sees very little natural light. He eats his lunch outside just so he can get some sunlight every day and exercise too. We have tried the lights and they do work but you have to spend more time under them than he is willing to give up.
  • PAMELA20151
    I used to go to the tanning bed when I would feel depressed in the winter months as I felt like I had a huge boost of sunshine. But, now they say that tanning beds are so bad for you.....
  • There are (florescent) lamps made, which (I've been told) work for this issue, and I've heard that (even though I don't use these) tanning beds are another solution as well. Sad...literally.
  • MSDESERTRODENT I am the exact same. The crazy thing is that I live in the great white north of Michigan and winters are cold and snowy here and summers (according to others) are not that hot. I'm already dreading July in January. To be honest the minute it starts getting warm enough to contently rain instead of snow I start feeling kind of crappy. I like October - March. April can be OK. Anything past it usually makes me start thinking about October.
  • KL6705
    I live in Ohio, and tonight the time changes...it's early November and the days are getting noticeably shorter. I've heard that Vitamin D can help with SAD, so I increase that in my daily vitamin routine. Let me know if that's wrong.
  • I live in the Pacific NW but don't suffer from S.A.D. for which I am thankful. I have friends who do though. This article helps me to understand their condition better. Thank you for posting it.
  • I have SAD as well... of course I do! I live in Seattle, where it is no coincidence that we have the highest antidepressant and caffeine use in the nation. Self medicating and prescriptioni medicating! LOL.

    I was part of a SAD study years ago, with a doc who is now considered an experet in the field. He explained that the little "reptilian" part of our brain, known as the pineal gland, becomes accomodated to a certain amount of light in our early years. If we grew up in a sunny clime and then move to a darker one, SAD may occur. Natives who live in an overcast environment in their early years do not suffer as much, or to the same degree as non-natives.

    What most of you do not realize is that SAD is a form of bipolar disorder. There is a relatively new term called Bipolar II --and it falls within that category. (Bipolar I is the sterotypical one with the wilder swings in mood, etc.)

    GET HELP!!! YOU DON'T NEED TO SUFFER!
  • I live in Phoenix. Our more typical SAD season comes in the summer. Comes from being troglodytes in the heat.
  • As a native Floridian, I COULD have had SAD last year or even the last 5+ years. But my theory is the symptoms were caused by a Vitamin D deficiency. Don't know how or why, but after finally paying for the test, my score was 13 out of 100, with optimum for health being 50 - 80.

    And I feel much happier since taking 10,000 mg D3 daily. We're testing again soon to see if I should continue that dosage. It will be interesting to see if all the symptoms return.

    Definitely something to look into.
  • I suffered (and I DO mean suffered!) from this while living in Michigan year ago. I moved, first to Florida and then to Arizona and I can say that it is definitely real issue for some. I never tried the light treatment, I just high-tailed it for the sunniest place I could find and it worked. To anyone who thinks this might be an issue for them PLEASE seek help, it can be very serious!
  • I'm a long time suffer of SAD and have been using a light box for many years. It really does help me to get through the winter months. I'm using it right now. :)

About The Author

Laura Bofinger Laura Bofinger
As a freelance writer, Laura uncovers some kind of inspiration every day when she writes about health and fitness.

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