Many people feel a little blue when the days get longer and colder. It’s quite common for people to eat more, sleep more and stay indoors more than normal during the winter months. Some people, however, experience drastic changes in mood and behavior when the seasons change. These people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that can dramatically and negatively impact the sufferer’s day-to-day life. Luckily, however, there are a number of treatment options that exist for people who battle SAD. For instance, people with mild cases of SAD might benefit from spending more time outside. Others may benefit from light therapy, medication and/or psychotherapy.
In this section, we’ll provide an overview of seasonal affective disorder. We’ll discuss the symptoms associated with the condition and will also outline the causes and risk factors of SAD.
SAD Causes and Risk Factors
Researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder. However, many doctors think that a number of factors contribute to the condition, including:
- The body’s natural chemical makeup
Doctors also think that the reduced sunlight in the fall and winter months may disrupt certain people’s circadian rhythms, causing the body to get confused and not know when it’s time to wake or sleep. This may lead to depression.
Chemicals in the body, specifically melatonin and serotonin, may also contribute to SAD. The body produces more melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep and that has been linked to depression, during the winter months. Serotonin, a chemical in the brain that impacts mood, often drops during winter months, which may cause people with a history of SAD to experience depression.
In addition to the above, living in a northern location and having a family history of seasonal affective disorder are among the many SAD causes and risk factors.
Since seasonal affective disorder is cyclical, its symptoms come and go as the seasons change. In general, SAD sufferers will feel symptoms in the late fall or early winter, with these symptoms disappearing during the warm, more sunlight-filled spring and summer days.
Interestingly, however, some people with SAD will feel SAD symptoms start in the spring and summer and go away in the fall and winter.
SAD symptoms that occur during the winter and fall months generally include:
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of energy
- Loss of interest in normally enjoyed activities
- Social withdrawal
- Weight gain.
SAD symptoms that come on during the summer can be quite different from winter-onset SAD symptoms.