Many SAD symptoms mimic those of other conditions or illnesses. A thorough medical assessment and diagnosis by a medical professional is the only way to know for sure if symptoms are signs of SAD. Here are a few of the more common symptoms of SAD​.


  • Losing interest in everyday activities and hobbies or pastimes you usually enjoy
  • Withdrawing from people and social interaction
  • Feeling fatigued and having trouble sleeping
  • Oversleeping
  • Craving carbohydrates and “comfort foods”
  • Gaining weight
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and/or worthless
  • Experiencing increased irritability and anger​
  • Becoming apathetic, listless, or discouraged

The Most Likely Cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Steps You Can Take to Help Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

A variety of factors may contribute to the development of SAD, but the primary trigger appears to be the reduction in exposure to natural sunlight that happens when days shorten and nights lengthen. The cold and dreary environment that so often comes with winter also contributes.

Natural sunlight provides vitamin D, an essential nutrient with many benefits. Vitamin D is important to bone health, because it helps the body absorb calcium. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to to an increased risk of many health problems, including depression and several cancers.

Sunlight also impacts the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin, hormones that regulate various functions like mood, sleep, and appetite. Serotonin has a profound effect on mood, and low levels have been directly linked to disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition, melatonin deficiencies can cause sleeplessness among other issues.

Lack of sun exposure also plays a key role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. Decreased sunlight can throw off the sleep cycle, which can make it difficult to get enough sleep and lead to depression.​

WE ARE NOT OLD, WE ARE SEASONED!

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It is important to seek care from a medical professional for the symptoms of SAD, but there are some things you can you do on your own as well as lifestyle changes you can make that may help to counteract the negative effects of winter, improve symptoms, and help you feel better.


  • Make sure your environment is as bright and sunny as possible. Open your curtains and pull up your shades first thing in the morning and keep them that way during daylight hours. Cut down tree branches that may throw shade across your windows and trim shrubs that may block them. As often as possible, try to stay near windows that let in light. Even the colors of your walls and furniture can help. Use lighter, bright hues.
  • Remain involved socially. Stay in touch and spend time with your family and friends, especially those who are upbeat, supportive, and understanding of your condition. It is easy to withdraw and isolate yourself when you are dealing with SAD so you may have to push yourself to be social when you don’t feel like it.
  • Stay as physically active as possible. Keep your body moving through exercise or any activities that require movement. There is evidence that daily exercise of any kind can help improve depression. So go for a walk, ride a bike, dance, take a tour, visit a museum, clean your house, or garden. Just make sure to get your body moving and blood flowing every day.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Make sure your diet includes all the recommended vitamins and minerals. Try to avoid overloading on carbohydrates, sugar, and “comfort foods.” Foods like these may give you a short-lived “rush” while you are eating them, but they are of no help at all in the long term and can actually make your symptoms much worse.
  • Get yourself outside. It is important to be exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible to combat the symptoms of SAD. Fresh air also helps. Whenever there’s a reason or a way to spend time outdoors and soak up some sun, do so. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen even in cold weather to protect your skin and prevent skin cancer. Walk your dog, build a snowman, sit in the park, or anything else suitable to your health, environment, and lifestyle.
  • Find ways to relax and reduce stress. Sit in the sunshine by the window and read a good book or listen to calming music. You may want to try some mind-body therapies that foster relaxation and help relieve depression, like Yoga, meditation, Reiki, or acupuncture.
  • Take a vacation to a warmer locale. If it is physically and financially possible to do so, plan to get away to a sunny climate preferably mid-winter. Even a long weekend spent in the sun can help lift your spirits and mood. Some people with SAD make all their vacation plans during the colder months rather than during the summer. 

Symptoms That May Signal Seasonal Affective Disorder

Almost everyone who lives in a cold climate has experienced a case of the “Winter Blues.” Let’s face it… a cold wet dreary day can easily bring down our spirits. For some people, however, the cold weather and shorter days of winter bring feelings of despair that go far beyond the typical “winter blues.”

Lots of people struggle with a condition called “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD.” Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder directly related to changes that arrive hand-in-hand with colder temperatures, shorter days, and longer nights. Unlike other forms of depression, SAD usually begins and ends at the same time every year. The condition can have a damaging effect on people’s lives and even become debilitating.

SAD symptoms often start out on the mild side in mid- to late- Autumn as days begin to shorten and temperatures begin to drop and symptoms continue to worsen as Winter settles in for the long haul… only beginning to improve again with the warmer temperatures and longer days of mid- to late- Spring. SAD symptoms often disappear completely with the arrival of summer and its warm temperatures, longer days, and shorter nights.


Unfortunately, seasonal affective disorder has symptoms that are often ignored or overlooked and sometimes mistaken for other medical and psychological issues. But, when diagnosed correctly, SAD can be effectively managed and treated. If you believe you -- or someone you care about – may be suffering from SAD, let your doctor know as soon as possible.. 

Beyond the “Winter Blues”