Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Ultimate Weather Sensitivity Guide

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

The symptoms and severity of seasonal affective disorder might vary greatly from one individual to the next. Some people may only have mild symptoms, while for others, the condition can be very severe and have a considerable influence on their day-to-day lives.

In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and ways to counteract its effects with supplements and lifestyle changes.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that strikes around the same time each year. Seasonal affective disorder is a mood condition that affects individuals who are generally well mentally throughout the year but who have depressive symptoms during one specific season, most often in winter and fall.

You can also experience it in spring and summer.

A somewhat uncommon variant of SAD known as “summer depression” affects certain individuals. It begins in the latter part of spring or the early part of summer and continues into autumn. It is far less prevalent than seasonal affective disorder that manifests during the winter months. Less sunlight and shorter days have been linked to a chemical shift in the brain that may cause depressive symptoms.

Dried leaves as a metaphor for seasonal affective disorder

The term “winter blues” refers to a milder form of seasonal affective disorder. The winter months might bring on feelings of sadness that are natural. It gets dark out quite quickly, and it’s possible that you’ll be cooped up inside.

However, SAD is more than just the winter blues; it may alter your mood and outlook on life. You can get through this difficult moment with the support of therapy. Seasonal depression is another name for seasonal affective depression.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder often begin to manifest in late autumn or early winter, and they typically disappear as spring and summer arrive with their longer, brighter days.

People whose symptoms follow the opposite trend experience an onset of symptoms in the spring or summer. In either scenario, symptoms could begin relatively mild but then gradually get more severe as the season goes on. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include the following:

  • Negative emotions such as sadness, weeping, or despair
  • Weight gain and an increased desire for food
  • Weight loss
  • A lack of interest in normally enjoyable pursuits
  • Sleep disruption, including oversleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • Drowsiness and a general lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

A very small proportion of people will go through stages of depressive symptoms followed by “manic” periods in which they feel pleased, energized, and much more social.

One symptom that is unique to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, often known as summer depression, is anxiety and/or restlessness.

Causes of seasonal affective disorder

Shorter days and less sunshine are considered to trigger a chemical shift in the brain that may contribute to SAD.

A hormone associated with sleep called melatonin has also been connected to SAD. When it is dark outside, the body produces more melatonin. This means that more melatonin is produced as the days become shorter and darker.

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Potential causes of SAD include:

  • Effects of light. Messages are sent to the area of the brain that regulates activity, temperature, mood, hunger, and sex drive when light strikes the back of the eye. These processes may become sluggish and eventually stop if there is not enough light. Some people appear to need far more light than others. This could imply that they are more susceptible to SAD in the winter.
  • Temperature and weather. Each of us has a unique experience with certain seasons and weather patterns. In colder or hotter climates, you may feel more uncomfortable than usual, which may make you more susceptible to depression (or make whatever sadness you already have worse). While more people are aware that SAD occurs in the winter, other individuals struggle more in warmer climates. According to certain research, summer SAD is associated with greater temperatures and humidity. Additional research is required to understand why.

Are some people more at risk of seasonal affective disorder?

SAD may affect anyone, although women are more likely to experience its symptoms than men. In addition, the likelihood of it affecting you increases if you reside a great distance from the equator, where the number of sunshine hours during the winter is significantly reduced.

Wondering when seasonal affective disorder starts? Well, if you are between the ages of 15 and 55, you have an increased risk of developing seasonal affective disorder.

In elderly people, the likelihood of developing SAD is rather low.

If you have a close family member who also has the same condition, you have a greater chance of developing seasonal affective disorder. You also have a greater risk if you:

  • Have a mood condition in addition to significant depression, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenic disorder
  • Have a close family member with seasonal affective disorder or other mental health illness, such as schizophrenia or major depression
  • Live in extreme northern or southern latitudes in relation to the equator with less daylight during the winter months
  • Live in cloudy parts of the world

How to combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder

The therapies for winter depression and summer depression are quite different from one another, and they may involve any one of the following or a mixture of many of them.

Sunlight or exposure to it

Spending time near a window or in natural light, such as outdoors, might help alleviate discomfort.

An older couple sitting on a bench in a park to prevent symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

Light therapy

If increasing the quantity of sunshine that you are exposed to is not an option, then exposing yourself to a particular light for a certain length of time each day may be helpful. Lights for seasonal affective disorder play a significant role in combating it.


It is possible that you have inaccurate perceptions of both yourself and the world around you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy may assist in modifying these perspectives. It may help you develop your interpersonal connection skills, assist you in recognizing the things that cause stress, and teach you how to handle those issues.


These over-the-counter and prescription medications may assist in restoring a disrupted chemical balance that may have contributed to SAD.

Supplements for seasonal affective disorder

Here are a few supplements that may be included in seasonal affective disorder treatment.

  • Vitamin D: Taking a vitamin D supplement might be helpful in overcoming a vitamin D shortage that has developed because you have not been getting enough exposure to sunshine.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA is one of the most important necessary fatty acids found in fish oil. DHA is found in high concentrations in the brain, where it plays an essential role in maintaining the correct function of the brain’s neurotransmitters.
  • 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan): The precursor of serotonin is called 5-HTP. Taking it throughout the day might be beneficial for increasing the amount of serotonin that is produced. The production of melatonin begins with serotonin.
  • St. John’s wort: It has a long history of use and has been shown to be effective for treating symptoms of mild and moderate depression.
  • Melatonin: Melatonin supplements may be helpful in treating SAD. Melatonin production in the brain will rise while cortisol production will be reduced. It is recommended to take melatonin in the evening when levels are naturally at their highest.

Always get your doctor’s approval before taking any kind of dietary supplement. It’s also important to note that taking St. John’s wort together with some birth control pills may reduce the efficacy of those medications.


Nearly everyone with depression has persistent emotions of melancholy, and they may also feel powerless, hopeless, and angry.

After doing a comprehensive mental health assessment and reviewing the patient’s medical history, a psychiatrist or another mental health expert may be able to diagnose seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

So, is seasonal affective disorder real? It is very real, and if you’re experiencing any symptoms we’ve described, be sure to visit your doctor. The good news is that there are medications and other treatments available for seasonal depression.

February 23, 2023