What is seasonal affective disorder?

Do you find yourself getting sad and tired when the winter comes? Maybe you just don’t have the energy you usually do, or you find yourself losing interest in your hobbies, and generally just feeling down during the winter months. Sometimes when the seasons change people notice major differences in their mood and energy levels. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the medical term for this, and it is often called seasonal depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that only occurs during certain times of the year, most often in the fall or winter, and it can recur every year. There are lots of theories as to why it happens, but the most widely believed is that when there is less daylight and shorter days the chemicals in the brain change and this leads to symptoms of depression. It is also believed that an over-production of the sleep hormone melatonin might also contribute to SAD. SAD is normally only seen in adults over the age of 20, and women are more likely to be affected. 

There are two types of SAD, fall-onset and spring-onset.

Fall-onset is also called “winter depression” and the symptoms start in the late fall and winter months and usually get better during the spring or summer.

Spring-Onset or “summer depression”, is much less common, but symptoms start in the spring and summer and resolve in the winter.

The symptoms of SAD are the same as depression although the symptoms improve when the seasons change and usually come back around the same time every year.

The most common symptoms are:

  • increased need for sleep and drowsiness
  • low energy levels
  • loss of interest in hobbies
  • withdrawing from social circle
  • increased sensitivity to rejection
  • irritability or Anxiety
  • feelings of hopelessness and guilt
  • decreased sex drive
  • an inability to focus
  • change in appetite, increased appetite for sweets and carbs is common.
  • weight changes
  • headaches

If you notice these symptoms, it is very important to contact your health care provider. SAD can look like other mental health conditions and only a qualified health care provider can give you an accurate diagnosis after they evaluate your situation.

There are some very helpful treatments that can help with SAD.


 It might sound simple, but often just spending more time in the sun can greatly help with SAD. Spending time outside or even at a window can reduce symptoms for many people.

Light Therapy

If you can’t spend time in the sun, there are special types of lights that might help. Your doctor can recommend a type of light called a light therapy box that mimics sunlight that you sit in front of everyday.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy and general interpersonal therapy can help you cope with symptoms associated with SAD.


Sometimes a doctor will prescribe antidepressants to help fix the chemical imbalance that is causing SAD and they are usually only taken during the months of the year that are affected by SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is very common especially for people living in areas in the far North or South, including Estonia. It is important to be sure that you are taking care of yourself all year round, but especially in the winter months and try getting as much sunlight as you can. If you notice you’re having symptoms and think that this might be what you’re dealing with, it is very important to reach out to your health care provider.

Author: Kellen Olivia Kiisler

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