Symptoms of and Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Seasonal Depression)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is a kind of mood disorder that sets in around the same time every year and is related to changes in seasons. Most people might ignore the yearly feeling, taking them as “winter blues” or seasonal changes, and might brave the disorder on their own without discussing it, but the condition should be given due attention as it saps the body of energy and makes the patient feel very moody and socially withdrawn.

Dr. Alexander Salerno of Salerno Medical Associates states that in most people, the symptoms are usually seen at the start of fall and continue through the winter months, ending in spring; as the leaves blossom, so do our spirits. Sometimes, less often though, seasonal depression is seen in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.

With the exact cause of the disorder being unknown, scientists think that specific hormones present in the brain might be triggering these mood-related changes, seen only at certain seasons of the year. Another plausible explanation is that less sunlight in winter and fall lowers the production of serotonin in the brain, and serotonin is linked to brain pathways that control moods.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is seen more commonly in women compared to men and usually starts in early adulthood, states Dr. Salerno. Sometimes it can vary in intensity from mild to severe; when symptoms are severe, the disorder can even have detrimental effects on work and relationships.

Symptoms of SAD

Common signs of depression are observed in people suffering from SAD, and these symptoms may start off being mild and become severe as the season progresses. Symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Experiencing low energy and fatigue
  • Feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Experiencing trouble concentrating
  • Feeling depressed for most of the day, every day
  • Change in sleeping pattern
  • Change in weight or appetite
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Feeling irritated or sluggish
  • Experiencing frequent thoughts of suicide or death

Symptoms of winter depression might also include problems getting along with others, feeling heavy in the arms and legs, being hypersensitive to rejection, weight gain with cravings for high carbohydrate foods, and oversleeping.

On the other hand, summer depression symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, insomnia, and agitation.

Remedies for SAD

Treatment of SAD may include medications, light therapy, and psychotherapy.

Light therapy or phototherapy is specifically given for winter depression and includes exposure to a bright light in a therapy box. Light therapy triggers secretion of feel-good chemicals in the brain and works similarly to how natural daylight works, without having any side effects, says Dr. Salerno.

Medication for SAD includes antidepressant treatment such as bupropion; however, medication might take time to show improvements.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy helps by identifying negative thoughts and behavior and changing them, guiding patients to manage stress and showing ways to cope with SAD in a healthy manner.

Conscious lifestyle changes can also be remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as getting out in the sun or going outside even on a cloudy day, making one’s surrounding environment bright and sunny, and exercising; all of these will lift one’s mood.

Since 2001, Dr. Alexander Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues, including alcohol addiction.