seasonal affective disorder

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

By | October 19, 2016 | wellness

What is SAD and how do you treat it?

Winter blues got you down? Seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD, is a type of depression associated with changing seasons. Although no one can pinpoint its exact cause, it has been hypothesized that disruptions to circadian rhythm, a drop in serotonin and changes in melatonin due to a lack of natural light are to blame. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of SAD so you can recognize and treat it effectively.


Signs and symptoms of SAD

A common misconception of SAD is that it only affects individuals during the winter months when natural light is limited and serotonin/melatonin levels drop, but that’s not true. SAD can be experienced anytime the seasons change; however, the signs and symptoms do vary depending on the time of year and your gender, age and the distance you live from the equator. Females aged 19-25 living in northern climates are most susceptible to SAD.


Fall/winter SAD symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or lethargy
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • “Heavy” arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain

Spring/summer SAD symptoms

  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased anxiety


SAD treatment options


Light therapy

There are a variety of options for treating SAD, the most effective is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Because SAD is thought to occur when natural light is limited, phototherapy requires you to sit or work near a light therapy box. This box gives off a bright light that mimics the effects of natural sunlight, sending a signal to the brain to change the chemicals that regulate mood.

Vitamin D supplementation

Although slightly controversial, vitamin D supplementation is also effective for treating SAD. In a 1999 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, researchers found that vitamin D supplementation helped improve depression scale scores in all participants.1 Vitamin D3 is recommended over vitamin D2 due to its long-term efficacy and fewer side effects.

Get outside

When it’s cold out, you might not want to go outside for a walk, but that is exactly what you need to do. Lifestyle changes, like exercising outdoors, opening your blinds wider for maximum sunlight or even just sitting outside on a bench for awhile, can really help combat SAD. For an added boost, invite a friend to join you.

Have you ever experienced seasonal affective disorder? How do you cope? Tell us about it in the comments section, or share this article with someone you think might need to know more about SAD.


Gloth, F.M., Alam, W., Hollis, B. (1999) Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, 3(1), 5-7.


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