A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Why do I feel so blue?

It comes on every winter, sadly.

couple walking outside in the snow

Most people’s seasonal affective disorder symptoms start in the fall and continue into winter.

Fatigue, depression, no energy and moodiness follow you around like your shadow. And you wonder, “why do I feel so blue?”

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be the reason.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

“It’s a depression related to changes in seasons, beginning and ending at about the same time every year,” said Mike Field, a nurse practitioner in the Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Department, Marshfield Clinic. “Most people’s symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter. Less often, SAD occurs in the spring or early summer.”

Decreased sunlight and overcast days are considered culprits. SAD is more common in northern regions. Also, varying levels of serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin may play a role.

SAD is difficult to diagnose because symptoms are the same as other illnesses and some psychiatric conditions, Field said.

Who is affected by SAD?

Although it can affect anyone, women, adolescents and young adults may be more susceptible. SAD sufferers also tend to have a family member with mental illness, such as depression or alcohol abuse.

Fall onset, called “winter depression,” begins late fall to early winter. Spring onset, “summer depression,” begins in late spring to early summer.

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
  • Weight gain

Symptoms of summer SAD include weight loss, difficulty sleeping and poor appetite.

Treating SAD

Treatment is based on age, health and medical history; extent of the disease; tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies; and expectations for the course of the disease.

Treatments may include one or a combo of light therapy, antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.

To combat winter SAD, get outdoors every day. This increases the amount of sunlight you get. Another simple tip? Rearrange your furniture indoors during fall and winter to get as much sunlight through windows as possible.

“There are treatments and options,” Field said. “People who think they may suffer from SAD can find help that could improve their quality of life during these changes in season.”

  1. Jun 17, 2016
    • Jun 17, 2016

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