How to Identify and Treat Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, affects a majority of people during the winter season. It is a disorder that impacts the… Trista - March 9, 2020

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, affects a majority of people during the winter season. It is a disorder that impacts the mood of an individual at the same time every year, especially during the winter months when the days are darker and shorter, and the weather is more severe. Besides changing a person’s mood, the disorder can change their appetite and energy levels as well as different facets of life.

Roughly one to two percent of the population falls prey to this depression, although it is more common among young people and women. Typically the disorder starts in winter and continues until spring and even into the early parts of summer. The disease manifests severely in some people and mildly in others. If you suffer from seasonal depression, the symptoms are more likely to appear at the same time every year. No matter how severe the level of depression may be, this disorder can be treated. Seasonal depression is more commonly seen in countries located at a higher altitude and in regions that stay cloudy and dark during the winter.

You may experience sadness during the holidays and don’t know the reason why. Shutterstock.

Symptoms of Seasonal Depression

The symptoms of seasonal depression start out light in the beginning and become increasingly severe, depending on a person’s geographical boundaries and genetic factors. Usually, the symptoms stay at their peak during the harsh and cold days of winter. Fortunately, the symptoms start withdrawing when the days become brighter and sunnier, which is common during the early days of summer. When the symptoms of seasonal depression begin to impact your life severely, it is time to seek professional help.

People suffering from seasonal depression experience bouts of anger without any reason and frequently feel irritable. If you are feeling angry or irritated in situations that require you to stay calm during the cold days of winter, you can visit a clinical psychologist for help. Often, people suffering from SAD may cry without any trigger or warning.

It can be challenging to get anything done when your motivation is so low. Shutterstock.

Low Mood and Lack of Concentration

People with seasonal depression feel low and melancholic all the time, and they might not have the confidence needed to be social. If you are feeling sad and experiencing a lack of enthusiasm to deal with work or other assignments during the same season every year, you might have seasonal depression. However, the cyclical symptoms must appear for a couple of years in a row for you to see a clinical psychologist.

People with SAD may also find it hard to concentrate on work or their hobbies. You might feel restless and experience irritability at the slightest provocation. However, most people tend to withdraw into a shell and are less likely to interact with people. If you cannot handle daily work properly and stay disorganized most of the time, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

You may even find it hard to maintain the friendships you have and once enjoyed. Shutterstock.

Trouble Managing Relationships

With a severe form of seasonal affective disorder, people face difficulties in maintaining relationships as well. If the interference in your closest relationships becomes too hard to manage, you can check with a doctor for an assessment. Some people can also experience a rare form of seasonal depression that begins from spring or early summer and continues until the fall. This is referred to as summer depression.

The symptoms of summer depression tend not to be as severe as seasonal affective disorder that presents itself during the winter. SAD can also affect sexual desire, so you may not feel up to engaging in sexual acts when affected by this disorder. When seasonal depression sets in, you may feel inclined to stay alone more often and avoid social interactions. You may also avoid parties and stop meeting guests when they come to visit.

Looking forward to the future may only bring negative thoughts, or you may not even think about the future at all. Shutterstock.

Sadness and Losing Hope

When SAD progresses in its worst form in individuals, hopelessness can set in. People can lose hope entirely as well as their drive to complete work. If you have to appear for an interview, seasonal depression is one of the reasons you may cancel the schedule at the last moment. Often, victims of SAD lose the inclination to go to work.

Even though the symptoms of seasonal depression may not be overwhelming in many people and tend to lessen at the end of spring, some people may experience thoughts of suicide. If you have suicidal thoughts during this cyclical depression, you have to approach experts for help. You can also turn to your family and other loved ones for support during this difficult time.

Not even food interests you anymore, so you don’t want to eat. Shutterstock.

Changes in Appetite or Weight

When seasonal depression affects people, they can experience significant changes in their appetite level. While some people feel hungrier than before, others may not eat much. The nature of this symptom can vary from person to person. Due to changes in appetite, many people also experience changes in body weight after the onset of depression.

People with summer depression can also lose weight due to changing appetite. Reduced intake of food may be another problem. People suffering from summer depression can also eat less than usual and suffer from poor nutrition. Poor eating habits can lead to weight loss or weight gain in individuals with seasonal affective disorder.

Depression symptoms can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Shutterstock.

Restlessness and Other Sleep Issues

The victims of seasonal depression may not have an optimal energy level and feel tired all the time. Due to a lack of energy, people suffering from SAD tend to fall asleep more often than others. People suffering from SAD may require more rest than they should. If you feel tired all the time and develop a tendency to sleep during most of the day, seek assistance from a doctor.

People suffering from summer depression may tend to become agitated more often without a proper reason and frequently feel restless. Summer depression can also cause sleeping problems or changes in sleeping patterns. If you have sleeping issues or face difficulty in sleeping during the summer season every year, speak with a clinical psychologist to determine a treatment plan.

The most common source of seasonal depression is when the season changes to winter. Shutterstock.

Causes of Seasonal Depression

No one knows the exact cause of seasonal depression, although researchers feel that certain hormones activate the issues in the brain that are related to changes in altitude. Some factors that can contribute to SAD include the level of serotonin a person has in their mind. The body produces less serotonin during the months of winter when there is no sun or only bleak rays. Serotonin is a class of neurotransmitters that can cause alterations in a person’s mood. Due to a deficiency of serotonin in the brain, you can experience symptoms of seasonal depression. Often, prolonged deficiency of this neurotransmitter can affect your mood adversely and manifest in a severe form of seasonal affective disorder.

Changes in a person’s biological clock can also affect SAD. The sleep-wake pattern of every individual can undergo significant changes due to the differences between darkness and light during the day, which is common in higher altitude regions in winter. Moreover, the short days and long nights of winter can also cause changes in an individual’s sleeping pattern. People often feel tired and sleepy when the winter is severe, and the dark days prolonged. Many people end up with a feeling of disorientation due to the changes in their biological clock.

With less sunlight, your body doesn’t produce as much vitamin D. Shutterstock.

Varying Levels of Melatonin and Lack of Vitamin D

During the dark days of winter, the brain of every individual produces melatonin to aid in sleep. Similarly, sunlight during the day obstructs the production of melatonin to allow people to stay awake and alert. The creation of melatonin can be very high during the cold season, making you feel sleepy and fatigued all the time. Due to the changing patterns of light and dark associated with seasonal depression, the disorder is less common in countries where there is plenty of sunlight throughout the year.

Studies also reveal a connection between a lack of Vitamin D and serotonin, which in turn is associated with the manifestation of depression in many people. The body can only produce Vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. Because of that, many people can experience a sudden bout of depression with the onset of dark and wintry days.

It’s vital that you speak to your doctor to receive a diagnosis. Shutterstock.

Diagnosis of Seasonal Depression

Doctors often find it challenging to diagnose seasonal affective disorder as the symptoms of the disease can interfere with other forms of depression. When you feel tired, lazy, and down during a specific time of the year and it appears cyclically during every winter season, you are more likely to have SAD. Even though the symptoms are more prominent during the winter months, some people can also experience a rare form of SAD, which is also known as summer depression. Most clinical psychologists follow different methods of examination to diagnose seasonal depression.

The primary feature of SAD is the regulation of weather, causing changes in mood and behavior, so the diagnosis should also follow a specific pattern. You are more likely to have seasonal depression if you have already suffered from tendencies of depression that may have occurred under the impact of particular seasons. Besides this, it is easy for doctors to carry out diagnoses when people who are suffering from SAD experience no symptoms during the rest of the year. The types of examinations that doctors use for diagnosing seasonal depression are as follows.

Your doctor will have a conversation with you and run several tests so that you can get the answers you’re looking for. Shutterstock.

Physical Examination and Psychosomatic Session

This assessment method for diagnosing SAD includes a question-and-answer session between a patient and their doctor. During the meetings, the doctor can ask in-depth questions and base their interpretations according to the replies they get. In several cases, specific health issues may have links with depression, so the doctor needs to confirm before making a diagnosis.

The doctor can also ask questions that focus on symptoms and changes in the behavioral patterns of patients. Studying the symptoms in-depth facilitates understanding of the problems that patients face and help in confirmation of the disorder. In several clinics, patients can undergo comprehensive sessions of questions and answers to facilitate the process of diagnosis.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is closely linked to other types of depression. Shutterstock.

Tests for Other Types of Depression

Research reveals that about 70 percent of people tend to experience symptoms of depression with the change of season. While the symptoms become severe during the winter, they tend to go away with the onset of summer.

When depression affects people every year during a specific season, doctors try to match the symptoms with the criteria of DSM-5 to detect the differences between SAD and other significant categories of depression. Individuals must experience substantial changes in mood and behavior for about two winter seasons in a row for doctors to move towards confirmation of seasonal affective disorder.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope. Shutterstock.

Treatment of Seasonal Depression

Even though the symptoms of seasonal depression can go away with the arrival of another season, various treatment methods can help alleviate symptoms. If you want to improve your thinking and changes in mood due to weather, visit a doctor for treatment of seasonal depression.

You can get your daily dose of meditation and yoga if you are feeling down during the change of seasons. Listening to good music and watching positive movies can also help. Furthermore, a good collection of books can create anecdotes for you to feel better and change your thoughts. However, that is not the first line of treatment.

Phototherapy tricks your body that you’re receiving sunlight. Shutterstock.

Light or Phototherapy

It is believed that the human brain produces more serotonin in the presence of light, which in turn can change your mood. The motto of this treatment is to counter the lack of sun rays to make patients feel better. It is one of the most prevalent forms of therapy for tackling the symptoms of seasonal depression. The light treatment is the primary mode of treatment for SAD in which doctors expose patients to light daily. All that they require is to sit facing a lightbox every morning. The exposure can last for about twenty minutes to an hour as the boxes aid in the filtration of UV rays. Typically, every patient requires exposure to white fluorescent light, which should supersede the lighting at home by about twenty times. The doctor can recommend this therapy for people suffering from SAD and living in high-altitude regions where the dark and dingy days prolong the winter season.

The distance between an individual and light exposure should stay around twelve to eighteen inches, and their pupils must receive the light. However, you should abstain from looking at the light directly as it can affect your eyes and vision. When it comes to the side effects of light or phototherapy, you can experience symptoms, such as nausea, headache, or impaired vision. Always inform your doctor about eye problems before starting this treatment. Although it is becoming more common, this type of therapy has yet to get approval from the FDA. Talk to your doctor and discuss in detail about phototherapy before beginning a session.

There are also antidepressant medications you can take to help improve your mood. Shutterstock.

Medicine for SAD

Doctors use Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, which are antidepressant drugs for the treatment of SAD. Some of the most prevalent drugs available are Citalopram or Celexa, Prozac or Fluoxetine, Escitalopram or Lexapro, Paroxetine, or Paxil Sertraline or Zoloft. The doctor can diagnose your condition or the severity of seasonal affective disorder before recommending the drugs. Besides this, the FDA-approved drug bupropion is another drug that works for the treatment of SAD.

However, the patients must also get relevant information about the side effects of these drugs and avoid using them if they are allergic to any of the ingredients. Those suffering from SAD and on medication should get comprehensive details about the category of drugs used for the treatment as well as learn the possible side effects. Some of the common side effects of SSRIs is lack of sexual desire and weight gain. Do not start taking medication randomly without the recommendation of a doctor. The full results of medicine can show only when a patient receives treatment for about a few weeks.

Incorporating positive thinking into your entire therapy process can help. Shutterstock.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is another mode of treatment for patients of seasonal depression. The procedure has been specially designed to suit the requirements of seasonal depression, and the premise on which it depends is the elimination of melancholic thoughts from the mind of victims.

While the doctors try to absolve negative thinking from patients, they also try to motivate them with the incorporation of positive thinking, also known as behavioral activation. This therapy helps patients figure out which activities can help them improve their thoughts and stay away from the harshness of the dark and cold days of winter.

Speak with people that you’re close to help combat those feelings of loneliness. Shutterstock.

Encourage Communication

For patients with severe symptoms of SAD, antidepressants, and light therapy may not work sufficiently to help them feel better. For patients trying to cope with the symptoms of SAD who look forward to getting relief, communication with other people can help.

However, they should try to talk to doctors specializing in the treatment of seasonal depression. Interaction is similar to counseling sessions wherein patients can talk about their experiences and feelings with a therapist who can also shed light on the reasons for seasonal depression. Through constant communication with a counselor, people suffering from seasonal depression can gradually recover from the symptoms and start feeling better.

Vitamin D supplements and certain foods can help to boost your mood. Shutterstock.

Take Vitamin D Supplements

The connection between the body receiving enough vitamin D and feeling better is a given, especially when discussed with the levels of serotonin released in the brain. Since sunshine is a natural form of vitamin D, and you aren’t getting an adequate amount, it only makes sense for you to take supplements during the cloudier, colder months.

Even though the link between the production of serotonin in the brain and Vitamin D has yet to be significantly proven, people suffering from seasonal depression often have a deficiency of this vitamin. Whether it is due to poor diet or lack of exposure to sunlight, taking supplements may aid the treatment of SAD indirectly. However, you can also get Vitamin D from your diet through fatty fish, egg yolk, and liver.

Experimental drugs may be precisely the solution to your problem. Shutterstock.

Going for Clinical Trials

The primary purpose of a clinical trial is to allow experts to try new drugs, therapies, or a combination of medications for the treatment of seasonal depression and to determine the safety and usability of said treatments. If you are keen to become a subject of clinical trials associated with SAD, you can go ahead and talk to medical professionals.

However, trial teams only accept the request for those who prove to be a good match for countering seasonal depression. If you don’t feel comfortable going for trials, or aren’t really sure what they are all about, discuss your inquiries as well as concerns with a doctor.

Expose yourself to more sunlight every day, even for a few minutes. Shutterstock.

Looking to Self-Help for Seasonal Depression

Besides seeking help with the treatments available for treating seasonal depression, you can help yourself to get rid of negative thinking. For instance, you can stay in the sun even if it comes out for a short time and allows the light to spread throughout the room where you spend most of your moments. However, you should get medical help to find out how much exposure to the sun is permissible for patients of seasonal depression.

Engaging in exercises every day for a short period can divert your mind and help you stay away from discouraging thoughts. Try to get adequate sleep every day to shun the feelings of fatigue and drowsiness throughout the day. If you are able to, you can plan to spend a few days in a beach location where you can get plenty of sunlight away from the dark and cold days of winter.

Exercising regularly for a few minutes every day combats negative thoughts and makes it easier for you to stay positive. Shutterstock.

Natural Remedies for Seasonal Depression

When it comes to managing seasonal depression using home remedies, you have to rely on your instincts. Once the doctor identifies the symptoms of the disorder and starts treatment, you can also play your cards right and begin with some natural treatments to get relief. Thanks to these remedies, you can try to say goodbye to seasonal depression.

Start natural therapy as soon as you start experiencing negative thoughts with the onset of winter. For instance, you can take time off to reunite with old friends in school and visit them in locations where the weather is bright and sunny.

Minimizing stress and eating healthy can make it easier for you to cope with SAD symptoms. Shutterstock.

Change Your Diet and Stress Patterns

Eating a balanced diet that constitutes a perfect mix of nutrients is responsible for a sound mind and body. People with cohesive thoughts and approaches can tackle symptoms of seasonal depression better than others. Besides this, you can choose relaxation techniques such as tai-chi and yoga.

Research reveals that diet changes can reduce the adverse effects of seasonal depression. Patients should also try to avoid using nicotine, alcohol, or other addictive substances like caffeine. While people with a tendency to develop depression should stay away from processed food items, they should also focus on increasing the consumption of folate. Vegetables such as broccoli and legumes contain folate. Research reveals a close link between depression and reduced levels of folate in the body.

Melatonin helps you to sleep at night so that you can be in a better mood tomorrow. Shutterstock.

Digest Melatonin Orally

Patients with cyclic depression that occurs in a specific season every year can consider taking melatonin orally. The lack of sun rays during the dark winter days can stop the secretion of morning melatonin in patients suffering from seasonal depression. Evidence and research suggest that oral intake of melatonin improves mood and can facilitate adequate sleep time in patients suffering from SAD.

Several scientific studies reveal that people with seasonal depression can expect positive changes in their sleep patterns after taking recommended doses of melatonin before going to bed. Consumption of melatonin orally should continue for three weeks in a row to realize the benefits. Do not feel reluctant to ask your doctor whether you can take oral supplements of melatonin safely to improve sleep.

Attend social events and stay in contact with your friends to boost your mood. Shutterstock.

Exercise and Attend Social Events

Irrespective of your diminished interest in attending social functions, you should try to break free from inhibitions that prevent you from participating in any activities. The more you interact with people, the better it is to help you recover from seasonal depression.

People suffering from seasonal depression should engage in regular workouts. Research reveals that spending about twenty minutes exercising can match the benefits you get from light therapy. Besides this, exercise can also impact and enhance the serotonin level in your brain, which is linked to seasonal depression.

You can find vitamin B in a lot of common foods like fatty fish, liver, and dark green vegetables. Shutterstock.

Take Vitamin B and Fish Oil

Vitamin B can convert proteins in your diet to neurotransmitters that regulate the mood and behavior of every individual. Apart from this, a fair share of this vitamin can also help in managing stress levels, and it is considered suitable for mental health. Vitamin B6, B12, and B9 are especially beneficial for patients suffering from seasonal depression. You can get Vitamin D from fish, liver, meat, edible yeast, shellfish, and dark green leafy vegetables.

The Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil can benefit patients suffering from seasonal depression. You can increase your daily intake of fish or consider oral supplements that can help you get your day’s requirement. Consult with your physician before taking fish oil supplements.

St. John’s Wort is available in pill form and has been shown to help with depression. Shutterstock.

Try St John’s Wort and Rhodiola

This herbal supplement is considered useful for mood disorders and matches the efficacy of medications that can treat seasonal depression effectively. Whether you suffer from moderate, mild, or severe seasonal depression each year, you can take this herbal supplement for about six to eight weeks to get the full effects. If the ingredients of this formulation interfere with other medications you take, you must talk to your doctor about the impact this supplement could have on your health.

Rhodiola is a useful herb that helps in managing the factors that promote stress. If you are looking forward to a medicine that is good for enhancing mental performance, you can rely on this supplement. Besides this, the herb also helps in creating a happy mood.

For patients suffering from seasonal depression, enhancing levels of serotonin, and working hard to remove negative thoughts are the key aspects of finding relief. You have to combat the effects of depression when it occurs seasonally. Try to watch for the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder as they appear. Carry on with your physical activities and eat a balanced diet to feel better.

Serotonin is the “feel-good” brain chemical and can be found in certain foods to give brain chemistry a boost. Shutterstock.

More to Know About Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression is quite common and can affect people from all walks of life. Anger, irritability, tendency to stay alone, and other symptoms of depression can affect people living in colder and higher regions where the dark days of winter can cast a shadow on their mind. However, the disorder manifests most often when you experience the tendency of depression for a couple of years in a row. Despite all the medications and treatment plans you follow in coming out of this depression, it is sometimes necessary to resort to self-help when you are looking for relief.

Try visualizing useful images and planning a holiday in one of the sunniest locations where the bright rays of the sun can improve your brain’s level of serotonin, which in turn can help your mind to stay alert. Take short walks outside instead of staying indoors, and you will feel a lot better while dealing with the symptoms of seasonal depression. Talk to your friends, family, and the doctor treating you about your past experiences of this disorder. Try to know more about how to battle symptoms of depression. If you are feeling sluggish at one moment and restless at the very next moment, and the symptoms come and go with the winter season, you are a victim of seasonal affective disorder.

You don’t have to go through SAD alone. Shutterstock.

What You Should Do If You Think You Have Seasonal Depression

One of the remarkable treatment techniques for seasonal depression is understanding the symptoms of SAD. Most of the symptoms of this disease match with other forms of depression, so you need to start immediately. Instead of allowing symptoms to proliferate, you have to consider the significance of medical assessments. Consulting with a clinical psychologist is the first step you need to follow once the disorder takes shape.

A lot will depend on the progress of the symptoms as the tendencies can vary from one person to the next. Although it’s easier said than done, it’s important to think of positive things and shed negative thoughts to feel better. Talk to your doctor about any risk factors that can promote seasonal depression. Remember that it is reasonable to feel sad and melancholic due to various reasons, but if the symptoms continue to develop over some time, it is wise to see a doctor.

When dealing with symptoms such as oversleeping or insomnia that develops in certain seasons, you have to deal with the situation tactfully. Often, depression results from other health conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss your health with a doctor to rule out those factors and determine the actual issue. Seasonal affective disorder is about the cyclical changes that take place in your mind and affect your thinking. You can try natural remedies and as well as prescription medications that can help you find relief.


Mayo Clinic – Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

WebMD – Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Cleveland Clinic – Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

National Institute of Mental Health – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Mayo Clinic – Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) Diagnosis and Treatment

NHK – Diagnosis – Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Help Guide – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

MedScape – Depression Clinical Presentation

Full Script – Natural Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatments