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

Symptoms consist of difficulty waking up and concentrating, tendency to oversleep, lack of energy, withdrawing from normal activities and families/friends, and occasionally weight gain. The symptoms are consistent with classic depression. However, people experience the symptoms mentioned above during a specific season, most often associated with the winter season.
Bryce B. Wylde
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Speak to your family doctor if you have these symptoms -- you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD):
  • Depressed mood: feelings of hopelessness predominate. The future looks black, and life may not seem worth living. Normal activities and interests hold little pleasure. Sometimes depression is worse in the evenings (the reverse of classic depression). Depression is usually mild to moderate, but can be severe with risk of suicide.
  • Irritability and anxiety: these are common, and may cause interpersonal and work difficulties.
  • Fatigue and lethargy: increased somnolence during the day and increased sleep duration at night
  • Decreased libido.
  • Increased appetite: carbohydrate craving and, very often, substantial weight gain.

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.

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) often include fatigue, weight gain, and recurrent illness, rather than simply sadness. The symptoms of SAD can range from a mild case of winter blues to serious depression.
Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, include: fatigue, lack of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal, craving for foods high in carbohydrates, and weight gain. If you have these symptoms, then you may not have a simple case of the “winter blues.” You may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder occur at a similar time every year. Symptoms of SAD start in the autumn and can continue through the winter.

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.

Two seasonal patterns of symptoms have been identified with SAD: a fall-onset type, also called "winter depression," in which major depressive episodes begin in the late fall to early winter months and remit during the summer months, and a spring-onset type, also called "summer depression," in which the severe depressive episode begins in late spring to early summer. The following are the most common symptoms of SAD. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

- increased sleep and daytime drowsiness

- irritability

- fatigue, or low energy level

- decreased sex drive

- diminished concentration

- difficulty thinking clearly

- increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates causing weight gain

The symptoms of SAD may resemble other psychiatric conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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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.