Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a term for periods of depression that occur with changes of seasons. It is much more than cabin fever. Most people suffering from cabin fever do not have SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most closely associated with winter and sufferers begin to notice changes in mood beginning in late fall until early spring. In lesser common cases, SAD has also been known to occur in the summer. The exact and specific cause of SAD remains unknown. The most likely causes have something to do with your circadian rhythm and melatonin and serotonin levels. SAD is more common in places with short winter days and where there are large changes in the amount of light throughout the season. Like other types of depression, it seems to be more common among women and those with an affected blood relative. The best way to determine if you have SAD is to consult a doctor.

Symptoms of Winter SAD

  • Oversleeping
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Crying
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling withdrawn from life

Symptoms of Summer SAD

  • Anxiety
  • Increased sex drive
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia

Best Ways to Get Rid of SAD

Light Therapy

Bright light therapy is used to treat SAD. Bright light therapy uses a very bright fluorescent light as prescribed by a doctor. The user sits about one to two feet away from the light allowing it to penetrate the eyes without looking at it directly. This is done for thirty to sixty minutes a day. Some users see an improvement in symptoms after a few days. If it’s going to work at all—which it does for three out of four people—it will work after four weeks. Light therapy isn’t something you can do on your own. It should be monitored by a health-care professional. It’s not just bright light, though, you can also get “sun” lamps that closer mimic the lightwaves that you would get from the sun. And that’s good times. You could give the NatureBright SunTouch Plus sold at Amazon a try, but there are lots of options for lamps, so you may want to look around.

Dawn Simulation

Dawn simulation is also an effective treatment for SAD. Dawn simulation is another type of light therapy that was originally developed to treat sufferers of SAD. Dawn simulation is supposed to mimic the rising sun with the use of lights set with timers and dimmers. The idea is to augment the circadian rhythm and keep it regular regardless of changes of seasons. It is also commonly used as a noiseless alarm clock for people who have trouble awaking suddenly.


As with other forms of depression, medication can help balance brain chemicals. Antidepressants are often the first course of treatment for SAD. There are many, many types of antidepressants available. If one doesn’t work, don’t worry. Work with your doctor until you find one that does. Once you find the right one, it should relieve many of your symptoms and often with few side effects. The important thing to remember is that once your symptoms begin to subside you shouldn’t stop taking the medication. That just means it’s working. This step, of course, should be done with the help of a licensed doctor.


Some sufferers of SAD benefit greatly from counseling.Psychotherapy, talk therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you learn more about your specific depression and teach you how to manage your symptoms. Therapy can be combined with medication to help you cope with feelings and emotions in a healthy way while you wait for the medication to take effect. As your symptoms improve, therapy can help you determine the causes and triggers of your depression and how to avoid a recurrence.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy is extremely effective treatment for severe depression. Many experts are unable to agree on whether or not this course of treatment should be used first or last. There are some potential side effects. The most severe is varying forms of amnesia that usually go away in a few hours. However, many patients have complained of permanent effects on their memory. One would definitely want to research this before submitting to ECT therapy.

SAD and Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression and depression is a type of mental illness. But depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a chemical imbalance. Having depression is completely out of your control. All you can do is try as hard as you can to do something about it. The first step is going to see a doctor so that you may get a proper diagnosis. Remember to always be honest with your doctor. They need to know you in order to diagnose and treat you. Once you begin treatment, let your doctor know honestly how it’s going, if it’s working, and how you’re feeling. If at any time you have suicidal thoughts, get yourself to the clinic or call a friend. Three-hundred to six-hundred thousand Americans try to kill themselves each year, and thirty thousand of them are successful. Don’t be in that group. Life is worth it—even if at times it doesn’t seem like it.

Natural Treatments for SAD

Vitamin D

When the sun is in the sky for shorter periods of time, we are exposed to less of it. When ultraviolet B comes into contact with our skin, it sets off a chain of reactions that lead to the production of vitamin D. Taking vitamin D supplements is one way to avoid this deficiency. You can order chewable Vitamin D supplements from Amazon, and they’ll help you hit your Vitamin C level too.


Engaging in exercise can relieve both stress and anxiety—two things that can strengthen the symptoms of SAD. Being in shape is also a boost to your self-esteem, which is always a good thing.  Granted, when it is winter and conditions are bad, it can be daunting to go outside and exercise.  But it is worth it.  Just dress for the weather, make sure you don’t slip on ice, and enjoy the brisk outdoors even if the light is low!

Sleep Schedule

One of the possible triggers for SAD is an irregular circadian rhythm (the result of an irregular sleep schedule). Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Be as active as you can during the day so that when you go to bed you are tired enough to fall asleep. If you need more help with your sleep schedule, talk to a doctor about a dawn simulator or taking melatonin.

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About the Author

Julianne Ragland

Julianne Ragland