• Posted by CERC India
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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Why you feel SAD 

Know the symptoms, causes and treatment for this common disorder


The change in seasons affects all of us. During winter we tend to be less active and want to curl up under a quilt and sleep. We tend to eat more and feel less cheerful as we are deprived of the warmth and light of the sun. These are termed ‘winter blues’. However, for a person suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, the change in seasons has a much greater effect on mood and energy levels.

SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. Most commonly it occurs in the winter months. A few people experience the depression in summer. In either case, the symptoms start of as mild but intensify as the season progresses. To be diagnosed with SAD, a person must experience the same symptoms at the same time for at least two years. SAD is a common disorder with around 10 million patients in India a year.


  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling tired
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight.
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Winter-onset SAD, the common type, involves oversleeping, feeling a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods, weight gain, low energy and social withdrawal (wish to hibernate). Those who experience depression during summer have trouble sleeping or insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, agitation or anxiety and even violent behaviour.


The following factors may be responsible for SAD:

  • The reduced level of sunlight in winter may disrupt the body’s biological clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
  • People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D which is believed to play a role in serotonin activity.
  • Like other forms of depression, SAD can be triggered by a traumatic life event or serious illness.

Risk factors


SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men. Also, the disorder occurs more frequently in younger adults. SAD has been reported in teens and even children. In addition, people with SAD may be more likely to have a family member with SAD or another form of depression. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if a person has major depression or bipolar disorder. SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator.


Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, medications (anti-depressants) and psychotherapy (particularly CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). In light therapy, the patient sits a few feet from a special light box and is exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. This light mimics natural outdoor light and causes a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy is effective in relieving symptoms of winter-onset SAD. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, music therapy and art therapy can also help treat SAD.

Lifestyle changes 

  • Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
  • Spend time outdoors. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help especially in the first few hours of getting up.
  • Exercise regularly as physical activity helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Exercise also releases endorphins which boost mood.
  • Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Don’t turn to alcohol or recreational drugs for relief.
  • Connect with people. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or shared laughter to give you a little boost.
  • Take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD.

If you find that SAD is affecting your life significantly, seek treatment and also make the lifestyle changes mentioned above to feel better.

Sources: doctor.ndtv.com, www.mayoclinic.org, www.nimh.nih.gov, www.mind.org.uk

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