The Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

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

Definitely the season for S.A.D. Report
Definitely the season for S.A.D. Report
I live in northern Indiana where we see very little sun from November through April. I have one of the lights but they really don't help any. I need to see the light outside my window and bright inside my house. A small light is not much help. I am retired now and just basically hibernate as much as possible during our long winters and count the days until May when we finally have some decent weather.
I would love to move to Florida but I don't tolerate heat well and I have other obligations here that I can not leave right now. Report
Thank you for this article. I used to get a mild form of SAD (I thought it was just cabin fever) but when I moved to Florida, it disappeared! Report
I did not know that treatment starts with about 45 minutes of light therapy. I got something called human charger. They're earbuds with lights on them. 15 to 30 minutes in the morning helped me the shortest days of winter. Report
Thanks Report
As a California girl who loves to garden, I do find Winter to be way too long. No energy at all, seems to come back about April when the days clear up. Report
Thank you Report
interesting Report
thank you Report
I love all the Seasons as life is too short. After years of convincing myself that I had some disorder or another, I learned that I all I needed was to eat what my body required such good healthy macro and micronutrients opposed to another expensive prescription. Every season brings beauty. Report
I find winter challenging. Thanks for the info. Report
thanks Report
Great article to shed light on a very real thing. Report
Thank you! Report


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.