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What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood, most likely during months when there are distinctly shorter hours of sunlight. Symptoms will come and go at the same time every year on an individual basis - most often in the fall/winter, but it can rarely occur during the spring/summer. Fall and winter SAD symptoms include anxiety, lethargy, lack of interest in normal activities, appetite changes, weight gain as well as difficulty concentrating. The shorter sunlight hours during these months may lead to increased melatonin or decreased serotonin levels, which cause the aforementioned symptoms. Spring and summer SAD symptoms include anxiety, agitation, difficulty sleeping, irritability, weight loss, poor appetite and an increased sex drive.

A more severe form of SAD is called 'reverse seasonal affective disorder' and is actually a form of bipolar disorder. Symptoms of this include hyperactivity, increased social activity, constant elevated mood and disproportionate levels of enthusiasm to certain situations.

If you live in an area characterized by lots of overcast days in the winter months, you may have been a victim of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a mood disorder associated with episodes of depression and related to seasonal variations of light. Symptoms of SAD include exhaustion and chronic sleepiness, the need to sleep nine or more hours a night, feelings of sadness and depression, excessive eating and weight gain, and powerful carbohydrate cravings, especially for sugary and/or starchy foods. You might also have a difficult time concentrating. Often these symptoms emerge during the fall and winter months as the days grow shorter, darker, and light becomes an infrequent visitor. They then disappear as spring turns over a new leaf, and longer, brighter days herald the onset of summer, which invigorates people’s zest for life and squelches any signs of depression.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.