Causes, Symptoms and Treatment For SAD

We’re piling on sweaters and snuggling under blankets as the seasonal chill sets in and the number of hours of daylight decreases. If you’re starting to feel weird (and we’re not talking about a cold), you might be wondering if it’s just the change of seasons or something more serious. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression triggered by seasonal changes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it usually starts when the days start to become shorter in the fall and winter and fades away in the spring and summer (NIH).

“Approximately 5% of people in the United States suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder,” says Deirdre Brett Fraller, DNP, of Alleviant Health in Colorado, who adds that the epidemic has resulted in a significant surge in persons seeking treatment for SAD and despair. “People aren’t getting out of the home as much, which means they aren’t getting as much sunlight, which has been linked to an increased risk of SAD.”

In fact, according to a recent study published in JAMA, the frequency of depression was three times higher during COVID than before the epidemic. “While exact figures are still unavailable, it stands to reason that SAD prevalence would rise in tandem this winter,” she says.

Of course, SAD is more than just a bad mood. We spoke with leading specialists to learn more about the reasons, how to tell if you have it, and treatment choices.


One of the main reasons of SAD, as Fraller mentioned, is a lack of exposure to sunlight, which affects the chemistry of the brain.

Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, aids in mood regulation. Changes in serotonin and melatonin levels (hormones crucial for sustaining a normal sleep-wake cycle) impair our natural daily rhythms in those with SAD. According to the National Institutes of Health, this causes an inability to respond to seasonal fluctuations in day length, resulting in mood and behaviour shifts.


SAD is similar to typical depression in that it causes you to feel depressed most days, lose interest in activities you used to enjoy, sleep excessively, and have low energy or chronic weariness. Changes in appetite (eating too much or too little), a decreased interest in social activities or sex, and suicidal thoughts are all possible. Of course, SAD only comes around seasonally, whereas depression can last year-round.

“The most important distinction between feeling depressed and having Seasonal Affective Disorder is the extent to which it negatively impacts your life and the length of time it lasts,” explains Lin Sternlicht, LMHC, founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York City. “You should speak with a mental health expert to be assessed if your mood is contributing to negative consequences in any area of your life, such as your relationships, employment, or general duties and well-being.”

Some of these sentiments, according to Sternlicht, come and go. However, if they last longer than 1–2 weeks, it’s time to seek professional advice.


While medicine, such as antidepressants, can be used to treat SAD, there are a number of simple interventions that can be done in the comfort of your own home. Always get advice from a professional, such as a psychologist or a physician, before taking any action.


Light therapy is exactly what it sounds like: it involves using light to treat a problem. You sit near a lightbox during light therapy. It produces a bright light that resembles natural outdoor light, which is not always available in the winter.

Valentina Dragomir, psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus, defines light therapy as “exposure to artificial light during the months when the symptoms are present.” “This type of therapy mimics sunlight-balancing serotonin, melatonin, and circadian rhythm exposure, which can contribute to an enhanced emotional state.”


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular type of talk therapy that can help with a variety of issues, including depression.

“Your therapist may ask you to keep a mood journal, which can help you examine what is causing your low mood and then devise ways to help you deal, such as changing your thought and belief patterns,” Sternlicht explains.


At the end of our fork, food is a strong tool. According to Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” if you choose your foods carefully, you can undoubtedly effect SAD. “Omega-3 fatty fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are all good sources of mood-boosting omega-3s.”

Fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils, according to Naidoo, help restore our critical microbiome, resulting in a better mood.


The most powerful natural mood booster is exercise. Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity cardio (brisk walking). Double these recommendations for even more health benefits (such as a lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and weight gain).

Sternlicht believes that even 10 minutes of walking or doing something basic like 10 squats in place can make an impact. “And if you’re not ready to go to the gym yet since COVID-19 is still circulating, you may get a great exercise at home without any equipment.”


Although it may be difficult in the winter, especially with COVID-19, your best bet is to surround yourself with positive and supportive family, friends, and coworkers. “While in-person involvement is most effective,” Sternlicht continues, “online video chats are a terrific tool at this time.” “It will be more effective than making a phone call, sending a text message, or sending an email.”

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